Looks like winds of change are blowing across the United States of America. Maybe because the thinking of the American people is changing or they have started to review the role of their government in the world, having learned from their mistakes in the past.
So many questions raised their head in my mind during my 21-day visit to the US, from March 24 to April 15, along with 10 other journalists from Pakistan under the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP).
During the visit, we met people from different walks of life, including heads of non-governmental organisations, educationists, elected representatives, officers of the US state department, the Pentagon, judiciary, accountability and taxation departments and also police officers.
I would try to discuss what I listened, learned and observed while travelling across 10 states of the US.
My personal observation regarding the US government, their people and their policies was that they put their own views first, as it can become easy to understand their point of view.
Before I go into the details, I would like to tell about some of the personalities we met during the visit: Jennifer Russell Sion, the US State Department’s Programme Officer for East and North Africa, and South and Central Asia; Ann Driscoll, World Learning Centre (WLC) programme officer; Lauren Coletta, the Director of International Programme at Common Cause (CC), who has worked in many countries around the world; Karen Deyoung, associate editor and senior national security correspondent for The Washington Post; Joe Zilligen, Tim Edge and Brittany Steiner, all Pakistan desk officers at the US State Department; former US Army General David and Tim Chambless, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City among so many others.
The US is totally a different country as projected in the outside world.
The beautiful things we saw and the richness of its culture, its law abiding citizens, their humbleness, hospitality and punctuality are proofs that this nation is almost impossible to defeat in any cause.
How can a nation be defeated that keeps one eye on its mistakes, negative things and is ready to face the realities every time? Suicide attacks or some terrorist activities cannot break the resolve of a nation that spends 80 percent of its yearly budget on education only e.g. the Utah State.
Those who are ready to listen and tell the truth about themselves can develop their people and country.
But what are the points of concern and negative things in the US government, institutions and system which need reforms? Here is how I felt a difference between the realities and the assumptions about America; let’s read what they are saying:
“Democracy in the US is still under process. Going to Iraq was a wrong decision by the Bush administration. The US Supreme Court has lost its respect as many questions are being asked about the Chief Justice. It was said that he was involved in getting benefits of millions of dollars from a charity organisation. How can a Chief Justice give his opinion publicly? There is no petty corruption but it always huge in the US. The Occupy Wall Street Movement is continuing but their news in media has reduced. They have concerns about corporate involvement in US politics but the millionaires are donating for election campaigns,” this was stated by Ms Lauren Coletta.
The Washington Post’s Karen Deyoung was of the view that there is an ongoing discussion about the legal justification of drone strikes in Pakistan.
She also has experience of reporting from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“There has been a long disagreement over drone strikes, which is odd for the public to explain. Pentagon says it is not involved, as it was a CIA programme. The CIA takes a public position that that programme doesn’t exist. The Pakistani government says that the US seeks permission about drone attacks from them. General Pervaiz Musharraf, President Zardari and Pakistan Army had agreed to make targeted drone attacks but they are not agreeing to their previous stance. Pakistan says the agreement between the countries has been broken as otherwise maintained by the US. The responsibility has to be careful, not screwed up.”
Deyoungs said: “After a week of attack on the Salala Check Post a Pakistani general while talking with me admitted that firing was initiated from the security post. Pakistan initially also accepted that they first fired. I do not endorse the US assault of killing Pakistan army men but two apologies within a day from US side and that too during the presidential campaign was not ordinary.”
She said the US had supported religious extremists during the Cold War but after the fall of Soviet Union, Pakistan Army and the ISI started using them as insurgents. They facilitated them and allowed to set up camps inside Pakistan. “The best example is that the Pakistan Army is still not ready to attack the Haqqani network and extremists in the North Waziristan,” she added.
Replying to a question, she said that although supporting army dictators in Pakistan by the US government was a questionable policy but the US media always remained divided on the issue.
News and editorial sides remain opposite to each other as newsrooms were of the view that army dictators should not be supported but the editorial section always supported them. “We did not agree to support General Zia and did a bad job in support military dictators in Pakistan. It was the stupidity of the editorial section to support General Zia to Pervaiz Musharraf.”
Lauding the efforts of the Pakistani media, she said: “ I love the Pakistani media. The US journalists say they cannot live without the Pakistan media, as Pakistani journalists are good sources for the US media and are hard workers.”
During a discussion at the US State Department in Washington DC, it was stated by Pakistani desk officers that the era of closed door meetings between diplomats and generals between both countries were over. Now the people to people contacts of both countries have started. Pakistani people have come close to the US people, they exchange views and try to understand each other. There are some ups and downs in the Pak-US relations but in the coming days, more meetings for mutual understanding will be arranged to reduce the trust deficit.
“It was easy for the US to work with a ‘single person’ in Pakistan. But we now support the democracy. US is not much powerful to keep the democracy in Pakistan intact, but beside us, the people of Pakistan must come up to protect democracy. We clearly support democracy even in the difficult times. It was good that some by-elections were held, senate elections were held peacefully and the next elections are coming. The extremists want to break the civilian government but it must keep strong. The process of democratic system must continue.”
They were happy about the process of good relations between India and Pakistan, saying there have been historic developments in Pak-India relations. Both countries have realised increasing trade relations. Pakistan needs a role in Afghanistan but why not both countries come on the table?
Afghanistan is looking for aid which can be from any side. It would be best if Pakistan and Afghanistan decide about their interests but America doesn’t want to be a party.
They said that there is need for Afghan reconciliation, economic reconciliation. The opportunities for Pakistan in Afghanistan would be in the best interest of Afghanistan and India also.
The US State Department was also concerned about the energy crises in Pakistan. They have invested and want to invest more in the future in the power generation sector. However, they did not talk about use of Thar coal, saying that is was seemingly a situation of regional security.
It was felt during the discussion that the state department was keeping the energy crises on top priority but were reluctant to mention Thar coal.
I assume that it was because the establishment of Pakistan may express concerns about the development of Thar coal because it is situated near the border with India.
The Sindh provincial government wants to develop the huge power resources but there is some reluctance on part of the federal government.
During the discussions, the Americans did not endorse the actions of their pervious regimes against Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The attack on Iraq was a wrong decision by the Bush administration as they do not want to spend $800 billion on army expenditures every year and want to call back their armies from Afghanistan and other parts of world.
The approach of Americans is right that there should be people to people contact between Pakistan and US. They are supporting democracy and need to keep intact their current policy to support democracy in Pakistan and against religious extremism in the region.