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General News    H3'ed 2/15/12

"Reset" or "Strategic Pause": Pakistan's New Ambassador's First Remarks to U.S. Public

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Ambassador Sherry Rehman; image courtesy of Google

"Reset" or "Strategic Pause": Pakistan's New Ambassador's First Remarks to U.S. Public

My most recent associations with Pakistan have been divided loyalties between East and West; the country's enmity with a strong U.S. ally, India, though a fragile peace is currently on the horizon between these close "cousins"; and shock that the U.S. search for bin Laden ended up at a sheltered location there. For me, that was just the Eastern aspect of Pakistan asserting itself, even as it is badly in need of U.S. aid.

But all the above simplify a highly complex web of conflicts. Violence occurs daily in her country, the new ambassador from Pakistan to the United States told us in her first public remarks in this country, hosted at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, DC. What amazed me the most about the brilliant and hugely accomplished Sherry Rehman was her absolute mastery not only of the English language--she attended college here and did outstandingly well--but of the idiom of diplomacy.

All terminology with any violent connotations is surrounded with negatives (Pakistan is not just about "bombs and bullets," e.g.). Her narrative is one of cautious hope even as she frankly complained about America's "growing footprint" in her country. The media narrative of Pakistan is wholly negative, she lamented, where there is also a vibrant, multifaceted culture thriving in the context of a new and democratic government featuring elections, a functional parliament that sets foreign policy, and an effective judiciary who are beginning to cooperate well as other governmental institutions "striving for equilibrium."

Amid all of this development, Rehman advocates a "strategic pause." There is much to set right.

But are we speaking more than different languages? I have that feeling about the impasse in the Middle East. Which country was it that said that 9/11 occurs routinely there, though it was such a gaping, mind-boggling shock to us? It could be that on that day not only was fear born, but more of a commonality with the rest of the world, most of it on the same extended continent, and therefore internal decay from mutual hostilities is frequent history rather than a one-time, catastrophic trauma? We are so well situated we had become spoiled and now are less so, based on an ambience of fear. Air travel is no longer such fun as each U.S. outgoing or returning passenger is forced to relive 9/11 at some level.

I greatly admire Rehman and others, including USIP, for taking on such a complex web of issues and trying both to make sense of them and to "reset" so much of what is wrong: daily occasions of violence among any number of terrorist or extremist (or both) groups that represent multiple nationalities and ethnic roots ("internal terrorism"); the NATO presence in Afghanistan that was severely hampered when Pakistan cut off the thoroughfare to Afghanistan that went through it in retaliation for the death of twenty-four Pakistani troops at Mohmand on the international border, without the immediate apology Pakistan expected from NATO.

That tragedy was the straw that broke the camel's back--forgive the clichà --in 2011, a bad year for U.S.--Pakistan relations; the ambassador expressed this event as an "end-line trigger of a series of "bilateral catastrophes.'" The U.S. capture and killing of bin Laden was an affront to Pakistani sovereignty. That is a conundrum for scholars of international relations but fortunately did not in itself cause the outbreak of a war. The event probably distills the "cognitive dissonance" or "trust deficit" that plagues relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Even as I read and reread the text of Rehman's remarks, which U.S.I.P. conscientiously distributed to attendees, I marvel anew at the language, not steeped enough myself in diplomatic venues but feeling like an outsider stumbling over British English for the first time and being amazed at its elegance.

Does it conceal as much as it reveals? Is it a strong lid on an explosive pressure cooker? Can it be called, very simply, "Euphemisms," period?

Even as the media embraced the first visit of China's "heir apparent" to leadership of the country, Xi Jinping, with a front-page photo of our mixed-lineage president warmly shaking the hand of the Asian diplomatic future between these two countries, I noticed in a small, parenthetical entry that Pakistan will now allow NATO to ship food to its troops in Afghanistan--the first time this has been allowed after what the media called an accidental killing, and we must believe this. I wonder if the coincidence between Rehman's visit and Pakistan's concession is purposeful.

Diplomacy is fraught with such complexity, hypocrisy (with its harsh reminder from Wikileaks recently), a nation unto itself with its own dialects, multiple layers, frantic attempts at communication amid this all. It keeps as much peace as can be kept, is one perspective, that lid on the boiling cauldron materialized?

The ambassador's speech contained so much more--her country's pain at being left out of recent international negotiations and its "non-intrusive peace offensive" [note the oxymoron, where the denotation of violence is transformed] in its own region, "a concentric circle of countries" that include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, and China.

Rehman professed no intention of "bringing a victim narrative" to Washington, but instead a plan to publish weekly statistics on casualties in her country that result from all forms of terrorism. The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan is at a historic high and her country cannot afford another civil war there, she said. On the horizon is a "roadmap of the terms of our renewed cooperation."

Watering the conflagration that is only part of her country's story is the first "sustained elected government in many decades"--the U.S. knows the "value of power rooted in democracy" and, concluded this protà gà e of Benazir Bhutto, "I for one am known for speaking truth to power."

As a longtime advocate and activist for peace, I did not feel terribly powerful myself--marveling at her dignity and euphemistic challenge to find some treasure beneath the heaps of corpses that symbolize the chronic discord her country suffers from.

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Marta Steele is an author/editor/blogger who has been writing for since 2006. She is also author of the 2012 book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols: The Election Integrity Movement's Nonstop Battle to Win Back the People's Vote, (more...)

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