Munter was, perhaps, the best friend US and Pakistan could have
When I first met Cameron Munter, there was a light exchange of his travails, which I jokingly put down to his business — diplomacy — especially, in his position as ambassador.
Quoting Sir Henry Wotton, the English author, diplomat and politician, I said, “After all, an ambassador is supposed to be (emphasis mine) an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.
There is interesting history attached to what is one of the more famous quotes on the circuit.
As the 36-year-old Sir Henry Wotton passed through Germany on his first foray into Italy as ambassador, he stayed some days at Augusta (Augsburg) in 1604: where, having been in his former travels many of the best note for learning and ingenuity, he was requested by Christopher Flecamore to write some sentence in his albo (a book of white paper).
Sir Henry Wotton, consenting to the motion, took an occasion from some accidental discourse of the present company to write the definition of an ambassador thus:
Legatus est vir bonus peregrè missus ad mentiendum Reipublicae causâ.
This, Sir Henry Wotton could have been content, should have been thus Englished: “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.
This is not a comment on Munter though, whose pragmatism and holistic vim was best suited to the world’s most critical bilaterals. As much as he enjoyed the joke, the bare truth is that the ambassador was, perhaps, the best friend both the US and Pakistan could have hoped for in his avatar.
Ironically, neither side showed much inclination to understand, much less appreciate, the demanding role he was pitch forked into thanks to the mulish approach of the two sides as their ties deteriorated.
He is leaving for home after only 18 months into the job.
While Munter was regularly into the crosshairs of an agonizing battle for primacy between the Department of State, his parent body, and Department of Defense, over who should run America’s Pakistan policy, he also had the unenviable task of finding a consensus view in Islamabad with the PPP government and the military locked in their own bubble over owning up the decision to unblock the Nato supply routes following a long drawn out parliamentary review.
Given to the historical view about the American envoy being a viceroy — an impression reinforced by Munter’s predecessor, the headmistress-like Anne W Patterson, who was always running up and down the country as if governing Pakistan — the incumbent also suffered from standard cynicism.
One felt this was unfair given that while Ms Patterson simply carried out her brief from Washington with a starched eyebrow, and found plenty of genuflecting hosts in the higher echelons in Islamabad/Rawalpindi — WikiLeaks offered rich vistas of her ‘matriarchal reign’ — the astute Munter was always trying to find common ground with a sensitive handling of intricate issues at hand.
It didn’t help that episodes like the one involving Raymond Davis, the raid that took out Osama bin Laden and the unfortunate blitz on Salala check post apart from the highly controversial drone policy regularly tested his resolve.
It is common knowledge in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad that though Munter defended the drone strikes policy in public since that remains Washington’s uncompromised stance, he was privately, miffed at its unilateral and brazen use.
Recently, he was quoted by The New York Times as complaining to his bosses that “he did not realize his main job was to kill people” in reference to the high casualty figures, including innocent women and children, that the drone strikes have claimed.
The CIA, whose ‘militarized avatar’ gained ground after the induction of General David Petraeus as director, is predictably gung-ho. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who helmed the CIA from February 2009 till July 2011, is now comfortably ensconced to lead a hard edged policy.
The general perception viz-a-viz the White House is that in an election year, it has willy-nilly gone along with the Department of State if only to look tough John Wayne-style.
Munter’s call for restraint, for instance, in the wake of the highly controversial release of Raymond Davis last year was met by the deadliest drone strike hours after the CIA contractor was whisked away following a contentious compensation deal with the heirs of the Pakistani citizens he killed in Lahore.
His deep frustration stemmed from how the Department of State had fallen in the shadows of the Department of Defense in terms of decision-making.
Back in DC, Munter diligently pushed for a proactive mien to salvage ties with Pakistan, arguing that widespread anti-US sentiment in the country was not necessarily a sign of hostility to the US but one of overriding disappointment with the results of the relationship going back to the Cold War.
If there’s some solace he will take back with him it is that he was able to contribute in putting the bilaterals back on track with the reopening of Nato supply routes after Secretary Clinton’s diluted expression of regret over the Salala blitz. His imploring that an apology be extended to get a move-on found no takers.
Perhaps, the best service Mr and Mrs Munter did their hosts was to engage with all strata of Pakistanis on the social circuit, and those outside it, with warmth. They genuinely exhorted the younger generation to have confidence in their abilities and pull the country on her feet.
Their charm, and pragmatism, will surely be missed.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at [email protected]