WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter says Washington and its uneasy ally must build on a mutual "desire for marriage, not a one-night stand."
He offered the analogy one month after Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, recommended that the two countries "divorce."
Speaking at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in his first public remarks since leaving Islamabad in July, Munter said "deeper" and "more sophisticated" ties with Pakistan would help overcome entrenched assumptions about each other's motives.
"We will be able to conceive of our American policy towards Pakistan, I hope, in a way that is broader, has more of a long-term focus, and isn't trapped by these narratives," he said.
"We don't change those narratives, but the question is, can we go around them?" Munter asked. "Can we do something else so that the question of whether or not Pakistanis are all betrayers and people who take our money and whether Americans are those people who come but then leave you -- whether that question doesn't get solved but becomes, perhaps, less relevant?"
'Face Of America'
To do so, Munter proposed greater U.S. emphasis on people-to-people contacts, business and educational ties, and public diplomacy, so that "the face of America is your neighbor, an engineer who works on a Punjab ditch" and not "the face of Raymond Davis." The former CIA contractor sparked tensions between Islamabad and Washington after fatally shooting two Pakistani men in Lahore in January 2011.
An anti-American protest in Karachi in December 2011
The former envoy also advocated a more regional approach to Pakistan in order to reduce what he called an "obsession" with the "bilateralness" of the relationship.
Munter said the 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, which pumped nearly $3 billion in civilian aid to Islamabad, had failed to break through the long-standing narratives because of institutional weakness in Pakistan and the United States' "inability to look past counterterrorism" in bilateral relations.
He conceded, however, that an approach focusing on Pakistan's people more than its politics is "unlikely" until the last U.S. troops leave Afghanistan -- or until it is safe for "university professors and businessmen, not diplomats" to help build relations.
"Until 2014, it is unlikely, in my mind, that we can have a major change. But that doesn't mean we can't do our homework," Munter said. "It doesn't mean we can't get, for example, the dynamic philanthropic sector of Pakistan to work with the very dynamic philanthropic sector in the United States -- which, in recent years, has not happened very much."
'Litany Of Horrors'
Munter also conceded that the lack of a "meeting of minds" between the countries on Afghanistan would complicate the process.
Critics, as well as U.S. government officials, have accused Pakistan of hedging its bets in the region by supporting both the NATO mission as well as militant groups.
Munter also said old narratives had become more ingrained after the "litany of horrors" that characterized relations during his 18-month tenure -- particularly in 2011, which included the fallout from the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May of that year at his compound in Pakistan and the November killing of 24 Pakistani troops in a NATO airstrike, which led to the closure of supply lines to Afghanistan.
A June survey by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center said nearly three-quarters of Pakistani citizens consider the United States an enemy. This month, Pakistanis burned U.S. flags during deadly protests against an anti-Islam film made in the United States.
Munter, however, argued that new investment in Pakistani society could allow Washington to tap into what he described as strong "latent pro-Americanism" in the country.
The former ambassador resigned in May, citing personal reasons. Richard Olson, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee to replace Munter in Islamabad, was approved by the U.S. Senate
on September 22.