It's that time of the year when the bittersweet relations between the US and Pakistan reach a high thanks to the now-routine foreign secretaries' meetings, titled the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. Secretary Clinton will be here on July 18 to confer with the Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. She will also meet with the prime minister and the president and maybe some opposition leaders.
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke has not mentioned anything specific about the visit so there are not many expectations from the trip. Local newspapers are speculating that there would be some agreement on the procedures for the disbursal of $1.5 billion aid under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation. Afghanistan, of course, will be on top of the agenda along with the security situation in Pakistan.
From the outline of her trip, it looks like just another meet and greet session with no positive outcome. The trip can turn into a meaningful visit if Secretary Clinton does any of these things:
Engage with common Pakistanis
And by engage I mean real engagement. It has become a fad in Pakistan to tack together a group of the so-called civil society and students for a brief session with the visiting Americans. These people are slightly better versed in real facts than an ordinary American living on the High Plains of Montana but oblivious to the living conditions of ordinary Pakistanis. Instead of giving a lecture at a fancy university, it would be better if she visits a local bazaar and interacts with 'real' Pakistanis.
When discussing how to give out $1.5 billion, Clinton focus not on the government intent on devouring the money, but non-governmental organizations that are actually doing work in the health and education sector. Financial scrutiny is another must given the history of embezzlement in Pakistan.
One way of dealing with this issue is to setup an American organization with volunteers who are brave enough to visit Pakistan and interact with the locals, heal and educate them. This people-to-people contact is necessary if the US policy makers want to thaw the currently strained relations.
Ease visa restrictions
For Pakistani students and business executives it is easier to take a trip to the moon and back than to get a US visa in Pakistan. It is true that security is an issue, but given the surveillance tools US have, it is not that difficult to screen visa applicants quickly. At least do not obviate the American education that many Pakistani students dream of.
She has not visited Karachi during any of her trips. She did visit Lahore during her last trip and it was a very safe and sound jaunt with visits to historical palaces and gardens and interaction with the local community. Karachi remains off the radar of most visiting Americans despite the fact that the city has perhaps the highest approval ratings of the U.S., provided that the pollsters break down the data on the city level. She would be surprised meeting with the lower and middle-class women of Karachi who are liberated, educated and independent -- at least by Pakistani and Muslim standards -- and thus are a beacon of hope for other Pakistani women.
The largest political party of the city, which also has the electoral majority in the metropolitan area, has the most secular and progressive profile amongst all Pakistani political players. The U.S. has stayed away from the MQM while coddling up with other Pakistani political parties. True that it has a history of violence, but other parties' histories are also stained with blood and gore, even more so than the MQM because they have ruled the country in the past and present and have carried out brutal military operations, including one in Karachi that was supported by both the PPP and PML-N. Another operation is ongoing in Balochistan and there are no signs whatsoever that the federal or provincial government is doing anything to stop it.
So this time Mrs. Clinton, we expect a better performance from you.