From governments to people-to-people contact

Hasan Naser is a journalist from Pakistan and working with NewsChannel 5 on a three-week assignment. He is sharing his thoughts about relations between U.S. and Pakistan and journalism practice in the coming days. He can be reached at

Pakistan-U.S. relations are best described as roller-coaster ride. Despite the fact that Pakistan is the most allied ally of the United States.

After 9/11, Pakistan once again became the frontline state. According to Islamabad officials, Pakistan has borne the brunt of the war and sacrificed more than anyone in terrorism in terms of human as well as material loss.

But the U.S. had never been satisfied with the claims of its partner in the war on terror. It kept pressing Islamabad to do more vis-à-vis with the Haqani network and al-Qaida, operating from north Wazirstan, a tribal belt in Pakistan. But the decision makers in Islamabad preferred to look the other way.

Recent terrorist attacks at a Karachi airport just go on to show the strength of the enemy. In a years' time, the non-state actors nurtured by the powers-that-be in Pakistan have become Frankenstein.

As the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan gets closer, Pakistan feels left out of the loop. Islamabad has fears that the U.S. would again leave it in the lurch like the late 1980s.

On one hand Pakistan has to face the monster of Taliban at home. On the other, it would have to deal with unfriendly, or at best neutral government in Afghanistan. This makes the so-called strategic depth theory relevant again for some policy makers in Islamabad.

Both governments have great trust deficit despite the claims of strategic allies. U.S. policies towards Islamabad are viewed with skepticism, not just by the officials but by public at large. This is in sharp contrast to what the U.S. has contributed in the development of the social sector, such as the establishment of Quaid-e-Azam University, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, or the funding of Mangla Dam and Tarbella dam.

The million dollar question arises here: why is the public not happy with U.S.? There is no easy answer, but rest assured it can be said that people are not only kept in the dark, but they are fed the wrong narrative of being wronged by the U.S.

The majority people in Pakistan would not know that the top-ranked public sector Quaid-e-Azam University was set up with the substantive support of the U.S.

This is high time to bring another side of the story to limelight through media. The growing trust deficit between governments can be arrested by the realization from both sides that Washington and Islamabad are indispensable for each other. The people of both countries are the most important stakeholders and should be taken on board.

In this context, people-to-people contact would go a long way in cementing the ties between U.S. and Pakistan. Increased scholarships for Pakistani students and journalist exchange programs are the steps in the right direction.

For instance, a stunning number of almost 250 Pakistani students studied on a Fulbright scholarship in 2012, surpassing all countries except Chile. The Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship, which is part of Fulbright, attracted more fellows from Pakistan than any other country in the same year.

The International Center for Journalists is hosting approximately 150 journalists from Pakistan under professional partnership program. These are the steps that would make a difference in addressing the U.S. negative perception in Pakistan and improving the ties between the two countries.

Since my arrival in U.S. last month as ICFJ fellow, I have found common Americans forthcoming, helpful and interesting. They have nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy. In fact, the majority does not even know where Pakistan is located on the world map.

While interacting with the people on street I have come across very friendly and down-to-earth Americans.

Another observation that may surprise most people in Pakistan is that Americans are family-oriented. They really care for their kids, and parents hold them as dear as anyone in Pakistan.

Watching a baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, I noticed that most of the Americans had shown up with their families. That is in sharp contrast to the perception held by majority in Pakistan, who believe Americans like to drink and women display nudity in public.

Last but not least, I must appreciate the hard-working nature of Americans. They mean business at work, which is the secret of American rise in the world.

In conclusion, Pakistan and the U.S. have to look for the convergence of interest rather than drumming up the differences. What the governments have failed to achieve with people-to-people renewed contact between the two countries can deliver and bring them closer than ever.

The common points between the people of U.S. and Pakistan outsmart the uncommon or divergent views. They only need to be provided a chance to understand through first-hand experience with generous support by ICFJ or the U.S. in the shape of Fulbright scholarships.


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