US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter has decided to step down this summer, purportedly due to differences with the Obama administration on how to reset ties with Islamabad.
Munter has been Washington’s man on the diplomatic frontline at a time when relations between the two countries have dramatically worsened, especially over the unilateral raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May and US air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
Munter, who spent less than two years in Islamabad, is believed to have been in favour of a US apology over the Nato air strikes and an unannounced halt in the drone strikes for the time being.
The Obama administration, however, was not willing to soften its position, delaying the much-anticipated re-engagement between the two countries.
A US embassy spokesperson attempted to downplay the issue saying that the ambassador’s departure was a routine affair.
The spokesman insisted that Munter’s early exit had nothing to do with the ongoing tensions between Pakistan and the United States.
US ambassadors usually serve three-year terms, but in posts considered as tough as Pakistan, they are allowed to serve two years with the option to extend for a third.
Frustrated with CIA, Pentagon
According to AFP, however, people close to the ambassador say he has been frustrated that the CIA and Pentagon call the shots for the United States in Pakistan, and that he feels his job has been to contain the fallout rather than set policy.
Reports of Munter’s differences with the CIA are not new. In August last year, then-CIA station chief in Islamabad clashed during diplomatic negotiations with Munter, who objected to the spy agency’s drone strike. A Pakistani official, who frequently interacted with Munter, told The Express Tribune that the US envoy was making hectic efforts to break the deadlock in the relationship. “[Munter] was quite keen to see both sides show flexibility on certain issues,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
Munter arrived in the country in October 2010, after his predecessor Anne Patterson spent more than three years in Pakistan. A US official said the ambassador would be leaving “this summer at the end of his two-year tenure.”
In his talks in Washington, Munter has advocated doing more to repair ties with Pakistan, arguing widespread anti-US sentiment in the country is a sign not of hostility to the US but of disappointment with the results of the relationship.
In Pakistan, he has been determined to improve America’s public image, travelling widely in a bid to meet as many ordinary Pakistanis as possible.
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2012.