Quilliam were honoured to welcome the former US Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Cameron Munter, for an event to discuss Pakistan’s role in the international community and future challenges in the region, particularly relating to the anticipated withdrawal of American and NATO troops in 2014.
In an event chaired by Quilliam Chairman Maajid Nawaz, Ambassador Munter spoke insightfully and authoritatively on a range of issues relating to US-Pakistan relations, identifying two competing false, negative narratives that have perpetuated in the last half-century: the Pakistani-based narrative of American betrayal and the US-based narrative of Pakistani duplicity. Ambassador Munter focused on the role of prejudice and conspiracy theory within these narratives and the need to break a cycle of mistrust, that would otherwise perpetuate a lose-lose relationship, by finding the lowest common denominator and focusing on the negatives. The Afghan lens, by which the interpretation of relations between the US and Pakistan depends on events in Afghanistan, is simply the wrong one to use, yet it is one that has dominated the discourse for the last decade, Ambassador Munter argued.
Ambassador Munter commended Quilliam on its civil society activism in Pakistan and suggested that it could act as a model for future engagement in the region, focusing on civil society solutions. He advocated business ties, cultural links and a shared heritage of philanthropy as a further way to improve relations between the West and Pakistan, applauding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its excellent work in combating Polio in Pakistan. He said that diplomacy need not happen only at the state-to-state level, but that successful international relations are built on civil societies and businesses too.
Responding to Maajid Nawaz’s criticism of the escalation of US drone strategy in recent years, Ambassador Munter was unable to fully engage on the issue, as might have been hoped, but identified limitations on his ability to comment due to his former ties to the US government. He did however call for the US to have more transparency on the issue, and argued that legislation needs to catch up with technology.
In response to questions from a highly engaged audience of students, journalists, academics and others with ties to the region, Ambassador Munter identified that Pakistan has the lowest tax to GDP ratio globally and that it therefore suffers from a lack of public engagement with the establishment, and a reliance on foreign aid, which has become an issue of national resentment towards the outside world. He explained that there was a continued role for the Pakistani diaspora in the West in promoting business and cultural diplomacy and emphasised that Pakistan should not be seen as a failed state simply because it does not mirror other Western models.
It was extremely interesting to hear more about Ambassador Munter’s experiences in the diplomatic service and his affinity for the late great Richard Holbrooke, whose tireless work in Afghanistan and Pakistan and approach to the two countries clearly impacted on him significantly. His commitment to more diplomacy and less war, with a greater focus on long-termism, was met with agreement in the room and there was positive feedback from all angles.
Jonathan Russell, Quilliam Political Liaison Officer