|Hope for Pakistan|
In a guest column for the Des Moines Register, Chuck Montgomery recounts his experience traveling to Pakistan with the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Initiative for the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-Pakistan Leaders Forum. Mr. Montgomery describes the reasons he feels hopeful for Pakistan (the conviction of its youth) and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship (citizen diplomacy efforts like the U.S.-Pakistan Leaders Forum). Read the full article here or download a printable version with photos here.
Hope for Pakistan
Lahore, Pakistan - Pakistan is on the move. People here, particularly the young, are stirring. A wave of soulful determination and creativity is building - aimed at setting their nation right. At least that is the conclusion I reach after several days of encounters with scores of Pakistani leaders. While the United States tries to nurture this movement, the Pakistanis are the primary actors, as they must be. U.S. credibility here is undermined by our drone strikes and aid policy. The strikes are viewed as proof of American disrespect for Pakistani lives. The aid is blamed, in part, for corruption of Pakistan's government. Pakistanis question American respect for their lives.
This situation, however, need not continue. The United States still has an opportunity to restore our credibility. I believe it would be in our interest to do so, and demonstrate to 1.3 billion Muslims that America seeks a world of mutual respect, even common purpose. Pakistan, the world's sixth most populated nation, nestled in a geostrategic location with a nuclear arsenal, seems a very good place to make that demonstration. As an officer of the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy (USCCD), I have been participating in the U.S.-Muslim Engagement Initiative here in Lahore. Forty American and Pakistani citizens have been exploring ways to lift the troubled relationship - using citizen exchanges and joint projects as the primary tools.
My organization welcomes this. We believe the world cries out for citizen-to-citizen engagement as a necessary complement to government-to-government diplomacy. Such contact ("citizen diplomacy") allows each participant to gauge the other, free of formal diplomacy's constraints. Citizen diplomacy works, even at times when competing national interests tempt citizens to view each other in stereotypical ways. We believe when citizens look beyond stereotypes it enables governments to make better long-term policy decisions.
participants here were varied and included educators, entrepreneurs,
journalists, academics, think-tankers, lawyers, former
diplomats/government officials, NGO leaders, farmers, philanthropists,
agribusiness executives, pollsters, doctors, media executives, and
After frank exchanges
about current U.S.-Pakistani relations, the meeting's focus shifted to
cooperative efforts for building a better relationship through: efforts
to improve marketing of mangoes, assisting silage production, farmer
exchanges, bettering agricultural extension services, sister cities,
student and teacher exchanges, virtual exchanges (e.g., grade schools),
6-month fellowships at American NGOs, and joint journalism.
While a reservoir of good will toward
the United States remains, the supply is limited. Everywhere, I have
been invited to tea and conversation - by a water buffalo herder in the
countryside, by bazaar book vendors, by conference participants.
Pakistanis are reaching out to Americans with generosity and warmth.
Last Sunday, I was inspired by a Pakistani college student. Over dinner she recounted her father's request that she leave Pakistan for a safer environment. With conviction she recounted her rejection of such a life, vowing to stay and help her country change. She acknowledged the risk, but chose to stay. I met many such Pakistanis this past week, of all ages. Something is happening here. We should be a part of it.
Hope for Pakistan, by Chuck Montgomery, the Des Moines Register, March 4, 2011.