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Obama Wants 'New Relationship' with Pakistan

Pakistan Link, News Report, Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui Posted: Mar 19, 2010

LOS ANGELES , CA: The Obama Administration is keen to have a "new relationship" with Pakistan that would be "much broader than security and aid. The Pakistan-US ties are "getting better" and "fairly significant changes" are in the offing shortly.

Anne PattersonThis was stated by Anne W. Patterson, US Ambassador to Pakistan, during her visit to Los Angeles. In an exclusive interview with Pakistan Link, the US Ambassador addressed a wide spectrum of issues agitating the minds of Pakistanis and the expatriate community. She did not side-step issues with the evasiveness of a diplomat. Instead, Patterson furnished spontaneous answers with the forthrightness of a plain-talking academic.

Elaborating on her initial remarks on the new relationship she claimed Pak-US ties were "getting better" by the day and President Obama's Administration had a long-term commitment to strengthen ties. The era of the roller-coaster ties, periodically bonding closer and distancing apart Washington and Islamabad, was over and the US was mindful that lessons of the past should not be dismissed lightly, she hinted.

During the course of the interview, Ambassador Patterson made a string of heartening disclosures. "We are beginning to have a discussion with the Pakistan Government" on the country's desire to tap nuclear energy. "We are going to have working level talks" on the issue in Washington this month. "Earlier on, non-proliferation concerns were quite severe. I think we are beginning to pass those and this is a scenario that we are going to explore," Ambassador Patterson informed.

She added the US was acutely conscious of the precarious energy situation in Pakistan, of people "sweating in 120 degree" without electricity, and would play its due role in raising installed generating capacity and making up for the present shortfall. US companies will be persuaded to invest in the power sector in Pakistan. I have been telling businesses the investment would be a good deal she informed . "We have to get the message out ."

In this regard she spotlighted some purposive initiatives that the US has already taken to restore the original capacity of large dams by way of commissioning new turbines. Tarbela, Mangla, Jamshoro have lot s of capacity that has been allowed to dissipate. Once refurbished, the dams would produce more electricity than what they are currently generating.

Asked to comment on Special US Envoy Holbrooke's recent statement that US concern in Pakistan had shifted from extremism to energy and economy, Ambassador Patterson explained that the security situation in Pakistan had improved and was a lot better than what it was "even a year back," thanks to the sacrifices of the armed forces. "The ( Pakistan) Army has taken an enormous number of casualties" and Admiral Mullen and US commanders have been "clear in their praise" for its successes. In pursuance of the new priorities, the US would be working closely with the Pakistan Government to ensure that aid under the Kerry-Luger Bill was gainfully utilized to strengthen government institutions and impart a meaningful fillip to education, women empowerment , and related social development initiatives.

In this context she informed the largest Fulbright program in the world has been launched in Pakistan. The US would also invest in teacher education, school rehabilitation, higher education, and science and technology collaborative schemes. The number of academics, kids, and other age-group Pakistanis, would dramatically increase in the near future. The goal is obvious: those who have seen the US are sure to have a better view of the country and its people.

She explained that in this undertaking the US government would give $3.5 billion to Pakistan every year, which would include $1 billion for the Army. "We have these increasing aid programs...You need more people to implement these programs." Hence, the need to expand the embassy. The Ambassador categorically denied the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan. "There is absolutely no foundation to Blackwater presence," she assured.

Ambassador Patterson conceded that the trust deficit between the peoples of Pakistan and the US was a "huge issue" but appeared optimistic that once the war in Afghanistan was over and the masses felt the impact of well-meaning programs of energy and economic uplift, they would be convinced of the good intentions of the US Government. "We want to have some big, significant projects identified with the US" so that the Pakistanis know "where we have invested." "Time will solve a lot of issues" and mistrust will give way to trust as people are convinced of the long-term commitment of the US to better their lot.

Asked if a more compassionate view of Dr Aafia Siddiqui's case by the US government would help in winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis, Ambassador Patterson replied, "We are mindful of Pakistan's concern vis--vis Dr Aafias trial in the US ... She has a series of appeals. (Pakistani) politicians have asked prisoner transfer which will enable her to serve her sentence in the home country. This is complicated. The Pakistan government will have to adhere to certain treaties. But this is not out of the realm of possibility and we have been discussing this with your Government." She dispelled the impression that the Pakistani Government or political leaders who meet visiting US special envoys and Congressmen periodically have not raised Dr Aafia's case with them. "Your politicians have raised the question of Dr Aafia Siddiqui all the time," Ambassador Patterson informed.

Asked to explain the US Government's current stance on the core issue of Kashmir plaguing Pakistan-India ties, the Ambassador observed that the "Obama Administration feels Kashmir is the key to Pakistan's long-term security. Unless the Pakistan Government feels comfortable with the security relationship, there would always be uncertainty that would manifest in various ways." The Musharraf Government had made a lot of progress in 2007 and was on the verge of reaching a solution. Our position is for talks to resume.

She described her posting in Pakistan as exciting and fascinating" and was amazed by the resilience and hospitality of the people during her stay in the country. She is a firm believer in democracy. It will take time, it always takes time The longer the democratic government gets its feet on the ground, the better it would be for Pakistan," she observed. A sound political infrastructure was as important as elections, she opined.

Ambassador Patterson strongly feels that a higher quantum of trade between the US and Pakistan could substantially improve the job market in Pakistan. Greater trade under favorable tariffs is achievable if Pakistanis living in America have a regular rapport with their congressmen and apprise them of the benefits of trade by way of generating jobs and goodwill between the two countries. She regretted that the ROZ legislation providing duty-free access to products from FATA, NWFP and Balochistan had been delayed in the Congress which had caused considerable disappointment in Pakistan. She urged the Pakistani Americans to press for the passage of the much needed legislation with their congressmen.

She also advised members of the vibrant Pakistani community in America to be more intimately involved in the implementation of the US policy in Pakistan. They should set up an advisory group and be politically active not only in the US, but also in Pakistan.

Ambassador Patterson described Pakistan Link, a nationwide community newspaper, as extremely balanced with useful contents and a sound editorial policy.

Her posting in Islamabad appears to be a good omen for Pakistan-US ties.

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