Published On: Fri, Feb 22nd, 2013

Inside America’s most dysfunctional relationship

Munter_2483751bBy Samuel Burke & Ken Olshansky

Before the raid on the Abbottabad complex where Osama bin Laden lived and died, then U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter’s main concern was for the American community overseas.

“We didn’t know what the response would be. I spent a lot of time talking with our team about how we would take care of the people in the embassy and the Americans overseas.”

Did he suspect that the Pakistani government and military would be so enraged? “We didn’t really know what to think,” Munter told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

In 1979, the U.S. embassy was overrun in Islamabad and burned.

“You never want to see something like that happen and you want to make sure that you have everything in place in case it does,” Munter said.
Throughout Munter’s time as ambassador, he faced major challenges in the at-times dysfunctional relationship between U.S. and Pakistan.

Polls show that only 8% of Pakistanis view the U.S. as a partner, while 74% view it as an enemy.

“I think it’s very important to look at these numbers and remember that what we’re talking about is a picture the Pakistanis have of us, that they see, in terms of our security policy,” Munter said. But he added, “There’s a part of America that the Pakistanis respect very much: our education, our business acumen, our openness and cultural side.”

The U.S. does enjoy solid long-term relationships Pakistani universities, businesses, and many curical people-to-people relationships, according to Munter.

A new book coming out by Vali Nasr, who was a member of President Obama’s AfPak team, recounts how the Pentagon and the CIA for many years directed and dominated U.S. policy towards Pakistan. As a result, Nasr says the diplomatic considerations were essentially given short shrift.
“It’s not that we don’t need these kinds of counterterrorist work,” Munter said, “We need to supplement those with the commitment to the Pakistani people and to their future, and to stability.”

But the opinion polls make it all too clear that Pakistanis don’t feel that.

“We need to have more balance. We worked on it during my time there. I’ll be honest with you; I think we could have done a lot better. I think the Pakistanis could have done a lot better. I think the team that’s there now is trying to do that, to have more outreach, to have more long-term commitment to Pakistan and the needs they have in addition to what we have in counterterrorism.”

Munter told the Daily Beast that he used to receive calls from the White House to ‘dial up the pain;’ and he would tell the U.S. that Islambad doesn’t respond well to ‘dialing up the pain.’

“Look, when you’re dealing with diplomacy, you’re dealing with the idea of listening as well as talking,” Munter said. “A diplomat will want to make sure that in addition to telling America’s story, that we’re listening to the other person’s perception so we can come to some sort of agreement.

The U.S. Congress authorized $7.5 billion of spending for the region over five years which is still being spent right now.

“We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to and we should look hard at our systems program to see where we may have failed. But I think in Pakistan, we also ran into a government that wasn’t always able to deliver.”

Munter said the U.S. must emulate the type of diplomacy that Ambassador Chris Stevens implemented in Libya before he was murdered.

“Chris was a master. I didn’t know him well, but I know that he was a master at reaching out, talking to people, knowing what was going on,” Munter said. “So just as the diplomats, like Chris Stevens, need to go out and find out the information, to listen, to figure out what’s going on, the security people also need to get out. You can’t hide behind a wall.”

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