Archive for November 25th, 2011

Pakistan’s New U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Task Ahead

As Reported by Xinhuanet

A journalist-turned politician, Ms. Sherry Rehman, will soon proceed to Washington to assume responsibility as Pakistan’s new ambassador where she would face tough task as how to bridge the trust gap with the United States.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani appointed Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Washington a day after her predecessor Hussain Haqqani resigned over a recent claim by a Pakistani-American business tycoon that he had been asked by Haqqani to deliver the alleged President Asif Ali Zardari’s memo to the former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, seeking Washington’s help to rein in the powerful army.

Haqqani, who was summoned to Pakistan this week after the memo controversy dragged the country into crisis, was asked by the Prime Minister to quit during a meeting attended by the President, the Army Chief General Ashaq Pervaiz Kayani and Intelligence Chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Sherry Rehman, a former Information Minister and current member of the National Assembly or Lower House of the parliament, is also a central leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She was chosen for the key post only because of her association with the ruling party as she has no diplomatic career. Islamabad routinely appoints ambassadors to the United States on a political basis. Several retired military men have also served as the country’s ambassadors to the U.S..

The Pakistani government has designated a political loyalist and the woman ambassador to the U.S at a time when mistrust between the two key allies in the so-called war on terror is at peak. Pakistan and the U.S. cooperation is considered a key to stability in Afghanistan as Washington is mounting pressure on Islamabad to take measures in “days and weeks” to encourage the Taliban, the dreaded Haqqani network and other Afghan armed groups to join the peace and reconciliation process in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“It’s like that old story – you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard, ” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while standing along with her Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad last month in a blunt message to Pakistan.

The first major challenge the Pakistan new ambassador will have to face is how to address to the U.S. concern about the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which the U.S. officials say are operating from Pakistan’s tribal region. Washington seemed to be in haste on the Afghan peace process in view of its troops’ withdrawal, which already began in July and will be completed by 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban is also an issue for the U.S. as the CIA says that they are sheltering Afghan armed militants in the country’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. In view of its frustration, the U.S. routinely uses its spy aircraft to hit targets in Pakistan tribal regions, which is also a source of tension in bilateral relationship and the U.S. is in no mood to stop drone strikes despite Pakistan’s criticism.

The new Pakistani ambassador will also have to convince the U.S. administration to unblock the suspended military aid to Pakistan. The U.S. withheld some 800 million US dollars in assistance to the country’s armed forces in July just two months after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid, the U.S. unilateral action had itself worsened relationship. The U.S. has also attached tough conditions with the civilian aid for Pakistan.

Pakistan is nowadays under fire during the Presidential nomination campaign in the U.S. and even on Tuesday Republican presidential candidates attacked Pakistan in their foreign policy debate. The Republican presidential hopefuls ganged up on Pakistan and questioned whether the United States could trust it. Texas Governor Rick Perry called Pakistan unworthy of U.S. aid because it had not done enough to help fight al-Qaida.

Criticism at Pakistan by the Republican hopefuls shows how much tough environment she would face after she assumes the office of ambassador in the coming days. She vowed on Wednesday, a day when she was designated as ambassador, to work for improvement of ties with the U.S..

The United States on Wednesday acknowledged the impending change of guard at the Pakistani embassy in Washington as they praised deposed Ambassador Husain Haqqani for his services and announced their anticipation of working with Pakistan’s new Ambassador Sherry Rehman to continue strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries. In Washington too, the State Department spokesman on Wednesday said the U.S. looks forward to working together with her as both countries “continue to build a strong, cooperative relationship between our two countries.”

The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. had also good ties with the U.S. administration and his role was praised by the State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, but even then the relationship had been worst during his tenure. Now Sherry Rehman will not only have to address to the U.S. concern but also to serve the interests of Pakistan where a majority of the people are against the U.S. policies.

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