Background on the Forum
In 2009, USMEI undertook a high-level planning process with diverse U.S. leaders and counterparts from Muslim countries.
Following a year of research, interviews and preparation, the USMEI launched the U.S. Pakistan Leaders Forum in February 2011. The selection of U.S.-Pakistan as a focus is guided by five insights from our preparation:
The Need and the Opportunity for a Civil Society Leaders Forum
We have found that a broad cross-section of societal leaders in the U.S. and Pakistan is committed to improving communication, dialogue and partnerships between the two countries, on education and youth engagement, agriculture, health, energy, water management, entrepreneurship and trade, and other issues.
Many of our participating Pakistani leaders express enthusiasm for partnership building among nongovernmental actors, and state clearly that such a process is long overdue and urgently needed. Many leaders recall an era of constructive civil society relationships in many fields, and want to build new ones based on shared values—hard work and entrepreneurship, education and scholarship, the rule of law, personal responsibility, a role for faith, and strong families. Counterparts from the U.S. say they want to invest in credible partnerships that help Pakistanis improve education, social services, livelihoods and local governance, and create a better climate for business and investment. They also want the U.S. to benefit from Pakistani professional expertise in many fields. In both societies, key civil society and business leaders are interested in skill building partnerships with peers, rather than aid relationships that create dependency.
Despite the mutual interest and goodwill, serious obstacles need to be overcome: high levels of mistrust, polarized public communication, and the absence of effective, nongovernmental forums for dialogue and partnership building. The ongoing Strategic Dialogue between the two countries’ governments is an important contribution. However, different national security interests and political contexts make it difficult for the governments to engage effectively with diverse civil society leaders. In the media, some American and Pakistani voices portray the tensions in ways that intensify mutual distrust. They contribute to widespread perceptions that the relationship between the two countries is a short-term alliance to combat extremism, not a long-term partnership based on shared values.
To address these widespread perceptions, a diverse group of leaders is now committed to answering a fundamental question: “what positive goals can Pakistanis and Americans commit to, and what kind of partnerships can they form, to create strong foundations for a long-term relationship?” The U.S.-Pakistan Leaders Forum is intended to provide clear, credible, and visible answers.