ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan and the United States have been troubled allies. In 2011, after the Raymond Davis incident and Osama bin Laden's death, relations between the two nations hit rock bottom. But both countries have invested time and worked hard to reclaim the lost mileage. Their relationship is showing signs of positive recovery, particularly in the areas of development and education.
Nations maintain multiple levels of engagement. And political, defensive, and regional and strategic engagements are not the only ones that we should be looking at. It is in the interest of better understanding that areas where cooperation is smooth and provide clear benefits should also be given "equal treatment" in the popular media. This is needed so that media audiences can broaden their horizons.
Many Pakistani and American critics conveniently ignore the fact that both countries have a long history of mutual cooperation, such as training teachers during the USAID Teacher Education Project, building the Satpara Dam in Gilgit-Baltistan and providing essential support to each other's political and regional goals, such as ensuring security, stability and peace in Afghanistan, particularly after the scheduled withdrawal of US and Allied Forces in 2014.
It appears that both countries, the United States and Pakistan, share more things in common than differences. The United States is currently assisting Pakistan in many social and institutional development initiatives from supporting legislative programs to education sector reforms.
The relatively new but welcome commitment of the United States to Pakistan's democracy, in part through the USAID Pakistan Legislative Strengthening Project, is extremely encouraging. It's worth noting that, though Pakistan's democracy is not new, it's the first time in the country's history that a democratic government is completing its term instead of a military regime.
At present, Pakistan is the largest recipient of the U.S. Educational Foundation's Fulbright Program in the world. There are 569 Pakistani students studying in the United States at American universities of their choice. In addition, America recently contributed to upgrading the education system in Pakistan. Eight leading American universities have partnered with their Pakistani counterparts to form distance-learning programs using the Internet.
For example, on Feb. 3, 2013, San Jose State University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Allama Iqbal Open University to improve the educational methodologies for their respective students via a distance learning program. Conducting joint research, updating curricula and faculty exchange programs are just a few aspects of the program. Seven other universities have also benefited from the program.
Earlier, Fatima Jinnah Women's University, National University of Modern Languages, Quaid-i-Azam University, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women University entered into joint partnership with the University of Texas, the University of North Texas, Ball State University, and Southern Methodist University respectively. These MOUs are expected to inject nearly $9 million into Pakistani universities that are now linked with their American counterparts. This exchange will also enable Americans to learn about a country that usually gets negative press, and its people.
At another level, the United States is providing financial assistance to various provincial government programs that educate nearly 3.2 million children in Pakistan. America has helped 16 public universities in Pakistan to build teacher training facilities. Moreover, other educational programs provide higher education scholarships to nearly 12,000 Pakistani students. As Pakistan struggles to improve standards and quality of education, such activities improve the situation of thousands of Pakistani students.
It is extremely heartening that the United States and Pakistan have chosen educational cooperation, among other types, as a key instrument of engagement with each other. This should be institutionalized over time as this not only strengthens Pakistan, but also connects Pakistani youth with their American counterparts.
While talking about politics, defense and strategic engagement are important, it's worth highlighting these critical areas of cooperation as well.
by Mubashir Akram
Mubashir Akram is the director of PINFO, a non-governmental organization working in Pakistan's media sphere, and a freelance writer. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), Feb. 26, 2013. Copyright permission is granted for publication.