Clinton’s focus on people-friendly diplomacy – Karamatullah K. Ghori

Clinton’s focus on people-friendly diplomacy

By Karamatullah K. Ghori

Dawn, “Encounter”, Sunday, July 25, 2010

HECTORING comes to Hillary Clinton naturally. As First Lady, then Senator, and now a Secretary of State enjoying the full trust and confidence of her boss, President Barack Obama, she knows not only the trappings of power, like the back of her palm, but also the wielding of it that only its consummate practitioners do.

On her previous visit to Pakistan, in October last year, the element of hectoring was loud and clear and left no one in doubt about her imperious style and the raw thrust of her ‘no-holds-barred’ modus operandi, something that would make pundits of conventional diplomacy flinch in horror.

This time around, however, on her latest visit to Pakistan for the second round of Pak-US Strategic Dialogue, there was a considerable mellowing of both style and tenor. It was more of a lecturing demeanour that she seemed intent on flaunting in spades. She was, well and truly, on a charm offensive to win the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis; and not the VIPs, mind you, but ordinary Pakistanis, because it’s their perception that she and her country now are more concerned about.

There were gestures and articulations aplenty to this effect that Hillary came out swinging, in this latest foray, to write a new chapter in ‘people-friendly’ diplomacy. Be that her joint media conference with her host and Pakistani counterpart, the effusive and overly-bubbling Shah Mehmood Qureshi, or her public-square tete-a-tete with the widely exposed Pakistani television anchors, the thrust of public-friendly diplomacy was robustly in action.

There is no doubt that Hillary’s articulation on the impelling need to move in the direction of alleviating the suffering of ordinary Pakistanis — whose burden has increased exponentially in recent period — hit the bull’s eye. For the first time, an American Secretary of State put her fingers on the pulse and said plainly that the cause, or causes, of ailment deserved to be addressed.

Focusing on the appalling need of clean water, better sanitation, health care for the common man, as well as irrigation, better farm management and upgradation of Pakistan’s overly-abundant fruit and horticulture are all issues that are so basic to the daily life of ordinary Pakistanis. They will, without doubt, be grateful to anyone who could make a difference in their lives.

Hillary seemed fully cognizant of the common man’s perception that the US has, over the decades of interaction with Pakistan, been more anxious to have its rulers — be they in khaki or mufti — in its corner rather than the people of Pakistan. So she bent over backwards to let the people know that, henceforth, there will be a much sharper focus on befriending them rather than the rulers. And to let the people of Pakistan know that she meant what she said, she hawked in obvious delight all the goodies she had brought in her bag for them. It was unprecedented of a visiting American dignitary to rattle off the figures of sums of money allocated for various socio-economic schemes specifically meant for the common man.

Equally impressive was her repeated stress on reminding the people of Pakistan that US has learned the lesson from its past mistakes and will be determined not to repeat them. This was clearly meant to dispel an impression commonly held by the man in the street as well as by arm-chair pundits and intellectuals alike that the US was using Pakistan to pull its chestnut out of the Afghan fire and will decamp the moment it’s done. Hillary was insistent that the policy of ‘cut-and-run’ was out for good and long-haul camaraderie is the new name of the game.

Sounding almost like a true and sincere friend of Pakistan, Hillary reminded its people of the great patrimony that its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had left for them. It was sweet of her to have recalled the message of the ‘father of the nation’ on the first independence anniversary, in 1948, in which he intoned the people of Pakistan to enrich the land and the great state of Pakistan that Allah had blessed them with, with hard work and dedication. It was, in a way, a friendly jab in the Pakistanis’ ribs to remind them that they should be regularly revisiting their history and the thoughts of their great benefactors.

All this would have had the impact that Hillary Clinton must be hoping for when she articulated her thoughts, had it been a normal relationship of equals between Pakistan and US. But it’s not, and that’s where Hillary Clinton seemed floundering in her mission to make this latest visit of hers to Pakistan a different one from scores of run-of-the-mill type made by so many of her illustrious predecessors.

Those old enough to remember a very popular American television serial of the ‘60s, Mission Impossible, would recall its signature opening scene: the hero receiving a scrap of paper that contained the gist of the mission but also announcing that it would self-destruct in 5 seconds. Hillary seemed to be doing precisely that with her mission to Pakistan: self-destructing it.

The imperious and impervious-to-pleas style of her diplomacy came robustly back into its elements the moment the people-friendly part was done with.

Hillary Clinton was characteristically blunt in making another feverish pitch to knock fear into the hearts of the Pakistanis by telling them that all bets will be off if there was another 9/11-like fire-works in her country of suspected Pakistani provenance. It was crudely serving a notice to her hosts that they should be prepared for the doomsday if such an apocalypse was traced to their doorstep.

Unrelenting and unresponsive she was, in equal measure, on issues of grave sensitivity and concern to Pakistan.

No, her country will not lean on India, or put in a good word for Pakistan, to be more accommodating on the water issue — one of life-and-death, potentially, for the lower riparian that Pakistan is in regard to all the rivers flowing into its territory from the upper-riparian India.

What a picture-in-contrast she cut, standing beaming from ear to ear, at the signing ceremony of the American-inspired — rammed down the Pakistani throat would be a more apt description of it — Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement in Islamabad. Mercifully for the people of Pakistan, the quick backlash of the Pakistani business community has forced the hand of the bluffing Zardari government to have second thoughts on an agreement designed in Washington to please the governments in Kabul and Delhi at Pakistan’s expense.

No, she wouldn’t entertain any pleas, either, from Pakistan to intercede on the issue of Kashmir with India.

But she had no compunction badgering Pakistan on its recent nuclear deal with China — a transparent and crystal-clear agreement for the sharing of civilian technology under IAEA sanctions. And to score a point on the issue, she didn’t mind reviving the ghost of the Qadeer Khan episode on which the jury is still out.

The top American diplomat’s response to Pakistan’s desperate pleas for parity with India on transfer of civil nuclear technology was equally arrogant and dismissive. Forget about parity, was her message, even if not in so many words. India is a long-term strategic ally, the message between the lines said, while you are a strategic ally only for as long as we may condescend to count you as such.

And the elephant in the room, the diktat, was hard to miss on how Pakistan was expected to fight its war against terrorism — according to American guide-lines, of course. So Hillary minced no words in intoning a Delphic reminder to her Pakistani interlocutors that the Haqqani group, in North Waziristan, posed a grave threat to Pakistan. The Americans know it best, as always.

One shouldn’t be blamed for being a habitual cynic if one were to conclude that apart from promising some little fixes for the gaping holes in Pakistan’s thoroughly sick socio-economic sector, there was precious little substance in her visit to Islamabad., especially in the context of Pakistan’s mega concerns on both Afghanistan and India.

Hillary seemed sure-footed on the undertaking by the US to funnel the dollops of socio-economic assistance not through the government of Pakistan but the private sector, instead, for obvious reason; the money-grabbing reputation of the ruling elite hosting her in Islamabad left her no alternative.

However, the Secretary of State of the power that’s all over Pakistan — and into everything concerning the state, according to our prevailing conventional wisdom — should be expected to know better about our robber-barons. They have an amazing reach to penetrate places where lesser mortals would dare not enter if they could just smell the odour of money. Besides, there has been no indication, lately, that Washington has had enough of those saddled in power at the cost of the people of Pakistan.

Washington keeping itself regularly engaged with the Islamabad establishment is an obvious vote of confidence in those lording over the befuddled people of Pakistan. The goodies Hillary brought for them in her baggage may have been a good gesture of goodwill. But goodwill alone may not salve the bleeding wounds of the people of Pakistan inflicted, ad infinitum, by an uncaring power elite.