As a democratic government, the United States (US) adminstration has to present the best case to its people to grant aid to Pakistan, Tara D Sonenshine, the newly appointed US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs says.
Speaking to The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview during a two-day visit to the country, Soneshine spoke on the challenge of improving ties between Pakistan and the US.
She said that Pakistan was the second country she had visited (after China) since being appointed in April.
“The aim of my visit is to listen and explain,” she said. “It is important to tell people who we are and what we do.”
To create political will, governments need to explain what they are doing to their peoples, she said.
“Neither is America monolithic nor is Pakistan,” she said. “So what the people want is not a monolith either.”
A people-to-people dialogue between the two countries is required to better understand issues, she said.
“Violent extremism has caused both countries to suffer major losses,” she said.
With Pakistan having lost more than 40,000 lives in acts of extremism, countering it is an interest Pakistan and US share, she said.
“Education is a core pillar in public diplomacy,” she said, speaking about the Fulbright International Educational Exchange Programme in Pakistan.
“The Fulbright programme in Pakistan is the largest in the world,” she said. “Its goal is to nurture young minds.”
Speaking about her engagement with students who had returned to the country after scholarship programmes in the US, Sonenshine said she found it reassuring to see young Pakistanis revitalised about taking their country forward.
She said that violent extremism, economic instability and climate change were the major problems facing the world.
“We have several problems but not many solutions,” she said.
Speaking about the economic engagement between the two countries, she said, “At the end of the day, people want good jobs and a feeling of stability. That is what we have to work towards.”
Responding to a question on whether economic and educational engagements between the two countries had decreased due to rising political tensions, Sonenshine said that while day-to-day incidents have had an ‘up and down’ effect on the relationship, public diplomacy aims to look beyond it.
“You have to be committed for the long haul and have to ride out these emerging situations,” she said.
“Public diplomacy in the modern age helps bridge gaps between individuals to create strong relationships between countries,” she said.
Pakistan and the US have collaborated in agriculture, economics and education, she said.
This ‘cross fertilisation of knowledge and intersection of science’ was symbolic of how public diplomacy had put students, researchers, scientists, journalists and entrepreneurs from both countries in a relationship, she said.
“Our goal is to build a long-term relationship with Pakistan that opens the minds of people to understand one another,” Sonenshine said.
She said that engagements need to continue between the people of both countries to steer the relations in a positive direction.
“I see a long journey that has to be travelled. I see citizen diplomacy as the way to achieving a long-term relationship with Pakistan,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2012.