You’ve recently returned from a trip to India and Pakistan. How have perceptions of the United States settled since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited?
The United States is badly losing the war of perceptions in Pakistan. By all accounts today more than 85 percent of Pakistanis are anti-Taliban and anti-America. Anti-Americanism is not new though. Pakistan has had a high, albeit tolerable, level of anti-Americanism for decades. But what makes this current streak more dangerous is that perceptions are now deterring action. American aid workers and their partners in the Pakistani government–guilty by association–are unable to execute development projects. This also multiplies mistrust between the two countries.
Washington and Islamabad are equally at fault. For the last eight years, Washington believed cloaking assistance would increase local government’s legitimacy and secure American diplomats and aid workers. Today, Islamabad is politically weak and Americans are more–not less–insecure. Instead of relying excessively on Islamabad, Washington must realize that the drivers of success or failure of its mission are the Pakistani people. The United States must partner with Pakistan to make its military support and development dollars reasonably transparent and comprehensible to ordinary Pakistanis–citizen recipients.
India is watching with measured optimism. It’s hoping that Pakistani military and intelligence will eventually go after transnational groups like the Lashar-e-Taiba, which was allegedly responsible for the Mumbai attacks last year. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Washington gave the Indians what they wanted: renewed US-India economic and energy cooperation, a steady flow of American nuclear technology and American commitment to stay out of the Kashmir, an area historically contested between India and Pakistan. On that account, the perception of the US in India is much better than in Pakistan.
You’ve written recently about how the US needs to market itself in Pakistan. In a nutshell, what does it need to be doing differently?
Washington and Islamabad need to work on an aggressive public diplomacy campaign that genuinely explains the partnership using all available mediums (TV, radio, internet and cell phones) and through high impact visible socio-economic projects. One way would be to create a website linked to a cell phone network that allows Pakistanis to track US assistance in real time–there are 90 million cell phone users and 18 million internet users in Pakistan. And I’ve actually done a pilot project tied to this (www.usaidforme.com). The goal should be to answer three basic questions in plain language that I believe most Pakistanis want answered: Why and how are we helping the United States against al-Qaeda and the Taliban? And what happens if we don’t?
Clinton was critical of Pakistan’s failure to capture top al-Qaeda leaders. Broadly speaking, how do you rate Pakistan’s counter-insurgency efforts?
I’m cautiously optimistic. Pakistan’s counterinsurgency strategy and capabilities have produced results that are both laudable and helpful to the American mission to defeat al-Qaeda. Nine months ago Pakistani Taliban-the protectors of al-Qaeda–controlled 60 percent of the nuclear-armed country’s north. Today, they’re largely squeezed into parts of the tribal areas. The Pakistani people and their political and religious leaders, and military, intelligence and police personnel are paying a high price for cooperating with the United States: almost 1000 security personnel and 2200 innocent civilians have been killed by terrorism in 2009 alone. They know the gravity of the situation and are willing to change course and threat perception accordingly.
On the al-Qaeda side, most of the top 20 killed by American drone attacks are a direct result of Pakistani human intelligence; without renewed and diversified CIA-ISI cooperation this would’ve been impossible.