Chamberlin: U.S. must clean up act to repair relations with Pakistan


Wendy Chamberlin lectures about U.S. relations with the Pakistan in the Amphitheater Friday. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

On May 1, a team of highly trained Americans killed Osama bin Laden. After the United States spent 10 years hunting through the Middle East, bin Laden finally was found and struck down near the Pakistani capital.

Americans were happy. Pakistanis were not.

Wendy Chamberlin, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Laos, said Friday that despite more than $5.1 billion in aid since 2002, the Pakistani people distrust Americans because of the nation’s historical pattern of unstable alliance.

This point was part of Chamberlin’s 10:45 a.m. lecture in the Amphitheater titled “U.S. Aid to Pakistan: Harmful or Helpful?” It was the fifth and final lecture in Week One’s theme on “Global Health and Development as Foreign Policy.” Chamberlin currently is president of the Middle East Institute.

Inconsistent aid to Pakistan

When bin Laden was killed, it wasn’t his death that made Pakistanis unhappy. Chamberlin said they didn’t care for him much anyway. It was that they weren’t alerted, despite the fact that he was found in their country.

“I think we are guilty as charged in giving our assistance inconsistently throughout the last 64 years,” she said.

During the Cold War, Pakistan aligned with the U.S., while India aligned with the Soviets. When Pakistan and India went to war between 1965 and 1971, the U.S. withdrew military aid from Pakistan. Chamberlin said the U.S. did it to stop the war, but Pakistan viewed it as an offense. To them, that’s not how allies act.

It happened again in the 1980s.

The U.S. needed Pakistan’s help in evicting the Soviets from Afghanistan. Money was “poured” into Pakistan, ending with a successful Soviet withdraw, Chamberlin said.

The U.S. then began developing legislation specifically designed to stop Pakistan from manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The legislation failed, ending with the U.S. stopping all aid to the country.

Once the War on Terrorism began during the Bush administration, the U.S. once again began funding Pakistan action. Today, they’re unconvinced that the U.S. will stick around once the war ends.

“(Pakistanis) look to the future and think, ‘You’ve got a pattern of this. You’re going to do it again,’” Chamberlin said.

Complex relations

Every person and place in Pakistan is “interwoven,” Chamberlin said. The U.S. can’t hope to fix any issues in the country by focusing on individual sectors. In order to fix relations with the country, she said the U.S. has to focus on the entire relationship.

“Making sense of Pakistan and our relations with Pakistan is difficult enough,” Chamberlin said. “It is one of the most complex relations we have in diplomacy. It is fraught with misconceptions and misunderstandings and confusions.”

Today, the U.S. provides more than half the assistance Pakistan receives. Chamberlin said Pakistan doesn’t just benefit from the U.S. — it needs the U.S. But the U.S. also needs Pakistan, she said.

Despite this, the relationship between the two nations suffers. A survey of the Pakistani people determined that only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a positive view of the U.S. Chamberlin said this is one of the lowest U.S. approval ratings in the world. Furthermore, 75 percent of Pakistanis view the U.S. as more of an enemy than an ally.

By comparison, China — a country that gives much less aid to Pakistan than the U.S. — has a 90 percent approval rating in Pakistan.

“Anti-Americanism is a complicated phenomenon, but it is one of the great anomalies of our relationship,” Chamberlin said. “Our military and financial assistance itself is one of the reasons why the Pakistanis distrust and dislike us.”

They see U.S. aid as a precursor to the U.S. leaving once the job is done, she said.

A second reason for anti-aid belief was that the Pakistani people believed the U.S. only wanted Pakistan for the country’s military strength. The U.S. prepared the Kerry Lugar Bill, designed to give $1.5 billion over five years to Pakistan, though the language in the bill said that none was to go to the military.

Once the bill was enacted, the military attacked the bill. Chamberlin said there is still a sense of criticism among the Pakistani people toward American economic assistance.

As a result of these rocky interactions, anti-Americanism has spread through Pakistan. Chamberlin said she knows of journalists in the country who are hired specifically to write anti-American stories. Furthermore, schools are a hotbed for anti-American lessons.

Fixing foreign relations with Pakistan

Chamberlin said she sees three ways the U.S. failed in its relationship with Pakistan.

Firstly, the U.S. failed to recognize the “essence” of Pakistan. The U.S. needed to understand Pakistan’s national identity, she said, before it took action.

Secondly, the U.S. needed to resituate the “architecture” of aid legislation.

Lastly, the U.S. needed to recognize competition between the Pakistani army and its civilian democrats in regard to aid within the country.

In order to repair the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, Chamberlin said, the U.S. needs to think about those three points. It needs to incorporate those points in future legislation.

“We’re in a really bad place in our relationship with Pakistan,” Chamberlin said. “It’s about the lowest point it’s ever been. The distrust is an all-time low.”

Chamberlin also posed some solutions. She said the U.S. should embrace realistic goals in foreign aid to Pakistan, should be more honest and genuine in its interactions, should be explicit in how aid can be used and should ask the Pakistanis directly what they want funded.

“None of these suggestions are meant to be a silver bullet,” Chamberlin said. “Ultimately, the Pakistani people are going to have to deal with what is happening in their own country and the extremism within. But minimally, we should not allow bad behavior.”

Q: What has China done in Pakistan to gain 90 percent public support?

A: China has built very visible infrastructure projects. They built the Karakoram Highway, from its border down the spine of Pakistan, of course, that had very immediate military and economic advantages to China, but it was a very expensive road through a lot of steep mountains. China is building another seaport in addition to Karachi for Pakistan’s navy. And of course that has implications for China’s military, but it is visible, it’s branded and the Pakistanis know about it. And China does not tell Pakistan what to do all the time. China does not feel responsible for easing tensions between Pakistan and India. China does not feel it’s its responsibility to end the War on Terrorism. China isn’t pushing military leaders to take off their uniform and run for office to build democracies. China just says their public diplomacy is: “We’ll stand by you, whatever you do; we’re your true friend.” But, when the Pakistanis test this, as they did two years ago, when their foreign exchange was just two weeks away from being completely depleted, and the IMF said that they would not replenish those foreign exchange unless Pakistan made some reforms, Pakistanis said, “We don’t need the Americans and we don’t need the IMF; we’ll go to the Chinese.” And the Chinese said, “Go to the Americans and go to IMF.” And that same thing happened a couple of times. So there’s a lot of bravado on the part of Pakistan when they say, “… We don’t need the assistance from America; we’ll go to the Chinese.” They know that’s not an option.

Q: Can you comment on the effect of the Internet, Facebook, etcetera, concerning the masses’ communications in Pakistan, and can we expect something similar to the Mid East?

A: There aren’t as many educated middle-class people in Pakistan as there were in Tunisia and Egypt where the Arab Spring has been most successful. But among the middle class, and it is growing, the social media is enormously important. It’s also been very much worked, by extremists and those that are pushing an anti-American narrative. The single place where most Pakistanis get their information, however, is television and radio. One of the reforms that President Musharraf — and he instituted a number of very useful reforms — one of the reforms he institued was to privatize the media. And in just a few years, and just recently, over 56 new television stations grew up over Pakistan. Unfortunately, it spews out a lot of misconceptions and inaccurate information. But that is what the illiterate masses hear. I was participating in a little group that was trying to support the middle class in Pakistan, and we did a study of the media. Pakistanis are voracious; even uneducated, illiterate villagers follow very closely international and global news, and they know what’s happening in the United States, and they know what they’re being told about our relationship. Americans, in contrast, don’t want to hear about the rest of the world. We have enough to do in our communities and our own lives, and Sarah Palin and Lindsay Lohan and all of these important things; we don’t want to hear it. But believe me, in inverse proportion, they care about what’s happening with us, and know about it.

Q: What would you predict would be the result in Pakistan if we ceased all money to Pakistan?

A: Well, first of all, I think the Army would and they may even still close their border routes at Quetta and the Cairo Pass, so that our logistics support, the food, the fuel, the heavy material that we are importing to support 140,000 NATO troops, American troops in Afghanistan, would stop, and that would be very, very troublesome to us. We have tried and have spent a lot of money trying to develop alternative supply routes, but their air routes and through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and boy, I’ll tell you, they negotiated some very expensive deals for us to use those routes. And it just at most can cover about 25 percent of our needs. So we would be up a creek.

Q: This questioner wants to know if we’re fighting in the wrong country, if we should be fighting in Pakistan instead of in Afghanistan.

A: When I first met Musharraf on Sept. 13 (2001), and delivered the “are you with us or are you against us” demarche and he said, “We’re with you unstintingly,” and they were. I went back on the 15th, and this is sort of in the literature out there, with some additional instructions from Washington, not from me but from Washington, about what we would do and what we would not do, and he gave me some ideas on what they would do and what they would not do. And one of the things that was understood we would not do in order to get their support was to put American boots on the ground. They would not, under any circumstance, have an American base with American combat troops or have American combat troops go across the border based, safe-guarded in Pakistan and go across the border into Afghanistan. So they were clear they were not the battlefield. And he told me, and this has been consistent, they would take care of any insurgents or extremists or al-Qaeda inside Pakistan because they had a professional Army that would do it. As I said before, in a couple of years, they were good to that promise. It’s just been a little bit eroded over the years, and so is our promise not to place combat troops in their country. We’ve done it a couple of times, including most recently to get Osama bin Laden, and that’s what really, they went off on.

Q: Two questions about getting these ideas past the military, and I’m honestly not sure from the papers whether or not they’re talking about our military or Pakistan’s. One is the “race to the top” analogy; how would you get those ideas past the military? And the other is, how we can get more aid to women through the military?

A: My race to the top idea was really just for development aid. For the military, I think we have to be very clear and set clear benchmarks and monitor closely that money is not diverted. The race to the top was meant only for development aid. Women, there’s some really creative ideas out there for educating women in Pakistan. For example, you build a school and provide a teacher in a community on the condition that they build a separate latrine for girls at the school. Many girls don’t go to school because they don’t have a modest place, a modest loo, and their family keeps them back. Simple solution. You can educate girls that way. Another solution, you give families a quart of cooking oil every month if the girl comes to school. And believe me, they send their girls to school when that happens. There’s some very easy ways to get girls’ education. We had before the rupture in our relations in the ‘90s, with the Pressler Amendment, we had some very promising projects of training local midwives, nurses, for preventative health in the villages. And it was making an enormous impact on the health situation in Pakistan. Of course, that went by the wayside, and security issues today make it difficult to recreate that project. But there are ways.

Q: We have several questions about cultural issues in our own State Department and our AID; what are we doing to make sure that we’re doing our homework and to stop misjudging other peoples’ cultures?

A: That’s a tough one, because whatever we do, you know, it’s never enough. I’ve noticed an awful lot of Pakistani-Americans, hyphenated names, have been recruited into the Foreign Service and into AID. And that’s been helpful. We’ve paid much more attention in reaching out to the diasporas and bringing them into the government in ways that they can bring insights that may not have occurred to me in my background. We’re putting a lot more money into languages. But sometimes we, in our efforts to understand the local culture, can get it very wrong.  I understand there was a question that came up earlier in this week about Greg Mortenson and his book and his approach. I mean, if I can just give you a minute on what I think about that. I totally support what Greg Mortenson was able to do; in writing his book, he reached more Americans with information about what it’s like to live in a Pakistani village than anything any official has ever been able to do. It’s been read so widely. Sometimes the only thing many Americans know about Pakistan is from his book. But then we overdid it. It became required reading; Three Cups of Tea became required reading in the military. And then the notion that, ‘Oh well, all you have to do is go into a village, sit down, talk to the guys, ‘What do you want? You want a bridge, a school; OK. We’ll give it to you.’” And that’s how you win hearts and minds. That’s not Mortenson was saying. What he was saying is, you spend time doing it. You stay in the village for a long time; you figure out whether the first person that approached you and said, “Oh, I know what we need; we need a bridge,” he may not be that right person. He may be from the next village, he may be the least respected guy in the village, or wrong ethnic group, whatever. You have to spend time with the people to understand what’s happening. And that’s not what we’ve done. So what I’m trying to say here, is that in our effort to be culturally sensitive — and give our military credit; they really were. It’s not a bad idea. We’re just too impatient; we’re in too much of a hurry. Development is a long-term proposition. It’s not something you do for short-term victories and get out.

Q: Can we assume that when we pull out of Afghanistan, we’ll have major military cutbacks to Pakistan?

A: I think, and I’m just going to speculate here, and it’s not going to be pretty, I think when we pull out of Afghanistan, Afghanistan is going to, over time, slip into, revert, to another civil war. That the jockeying for power will be defined along ethnic bases. Every Taliban is a Pashtun; not every Pashtun is a Taliban. But they won’t have much choice when the Taliban have free reign, and that will not be accepted by the Uzbeks and the Tajiks and the other ethnic groups in the North. And we will see a repeat of the last time we pulled out of Afghanistan, because the security forces in Afghanistan are not yet able to provide a national security. And because Karzai is a very weak leader. So you’ll find that Pakistanis supporting the Pashtuns and the Taliban, because the other guys are going to be supported by India, and that will put greater strains in our relationships with Pakistan. So I don’t see a happy, an easy way out of this. So, are we going to cut back our assistance to Pakistan or increase it? I don’t know.

Q: Who represents the biggest nuclear threat to the United States: Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, China, USSR or small terrorist groups?

A: Small terrorist groups. One worries that — I mean, and it’s a long shot, and you do have to have worst case scenarios out there — you do worry that, if Pakistan were to slide into a country, maybe that a relationship with us that might look not too dissimilar to Tehran, in Iran, where our relations would break down completely, where our diplomatic community is expelled; there’s no embassy, and we’re hostile, and they’re nuclear armed. One would worry that there would be no controls over their nuclear arms, and that selling them for profit, like North Korea does, would be — we would face that. In fact, to answer that question, if I could add, what nation presents the greatest nuclear threat to us, I’d say probably North Korea, in the sense that it sells it.

Q: We’re hearing that Pakistanis themselves must affect change in their country, but if the majority of the population are illiterate, impoverished, how can we expect them to do that? How can we help them? What good would a people-to-people program do?

A: Well, only the people; I mean, not much, but you’re in it for the long haul, not the short haul, and so you start building those people-to-people relations now because you don’t want to waste time in doing it. I mean, if the questions were, what should the Pakistanis do? I could give you a clearer answer. But what we can do is very little, really. It’s got to be the Pakistanis themselves that implement tax. I’d start with a land tax; that would break up the feudal system. People would have to start to sell off their big holdings, if they couldn’t pay those taxes. I would change the curriculum, but we can’t change the curriculum; they must change that curriculum. But what we can do, we can do is to help them create jobs by lifting some of the really onerous tariffs that we place on their largest export, and that is textile and apparels. We have higher exports by multiples on Pakistan exports on textiles and apparels than we place on the French. Now you go figure. And that is something that inside government, we’ve tried to persuade the lobby, the cabal in Congress, but the textile interests in this country, it’s defending an industry that left a long time ago, is so strong that we can’t do the right thing.

Q: Any other hopes?

A: I hope you all have wonderful Fourth of July.