By Bilal Qureshi
During his Pakistan visit, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote an article for an English daily in which he basically stressed the need to work together. On the other hand, while in India, Mr. Gates implied that had India not acted sensibly (I am paraphrasing) after the Mumbai attacked, there was a real chance of war breaking out between Pakistan and India. Now, from my reading, Mr. Gates is giving the impression that terrorists responsible for Mumbai were somehow linked to either Pakistan, or some branches of governments in Pakistan. And second, it is India who is acting maturely; otherwise, India would have been right to attack Pakistan to seek revenge.
Obviously, everyone in Pakistan strongly disagrees with Mr. Gates.
Without getting into the details of foreign policy challenges and competing interests separating Islamabad and Washington, I’d say that if Americans are really interested in winning ‘hearts and minds of Pakistanis’, than they should refrain from publically commenting about issues that are music to the ears of anti American elements in Pakistan. In fact, I am willing to go one step further – if Americans are interested in improving relations with Islamabad, they must stop high profile visits to Islamabad because in the end, instead of improving ties, these visits increase the ‘trust deficit’ between Islamabad and Washington.
Personally, it is hard for me to understand the reason behind Mr. Gates’s visit to Pakistan? What was Mr. Gates trying to accomplish that Mike Mullen, General David Howell Petraeus, Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke, to Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton failed to achieve? Given Pakistan’s overall situation, I think it is best to let America’s ambassador in Pakistan, Anne Woods Patterson to manage this tumultuous relationship. And, if it becomes absolutely critical to meet face to face (video teleconference could be equally beneficial) meet with Pakistan’s leadership, meet them in Washington, but please stop going to Pakistan and wait for the situation to get better. Otherwise, Washington is only alienating an important ally by over visiting Islamabad.
Coming back to what Mr. Gates had said in India, personally, I think it was a mistake to support India’s position while in India and praise Pakistan while in Pakistan. It can’t go on like this. Either Mr. Gates should take a position and stick to it, or he should refrain from publically commenting on issues that increase the mistrust between Islamabad and Washington. And, let’s be honest about it. Islamabad and Washington don’t trust each other.
Policy makers in Washington should understand the on-going struggle in Pakistan between the forces of darkness and the civil society that is fighting to keep hope alive. And, for us, the best way to support our friends in Islamabad is to not give more ammo to our common enemy. As a friend, I am suggesting that we should not complicate things for our friends in Islamabad and if it means we should avoid visiting Islamabad, fine. From my recent 10 months in Pakistan, I have noticed that the best way to strengthen the relationship with Islamabad is to keep a low profile and let Islamabad manage their challenges. Unfortunately, as it is the government in Islamabad is week and Mr. Zardari is labeled as too friendly towards Washington and judiciary, army, civil establishment, right wing political and religious parties are already trying to get Zardari and bring down the current government in Islamabad. At the very least, Washington should not join this effort because of its naiveté.
Remember, when Washington asks for ‘do more’, it actually is doing more for those who are spreading anti American hate and propaganda in the country. Therefore, let us do more by saying and visiting less.
“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual” Oscar Wilde