Building Confidence Between the US and Pakistan

By Saira Yamin and Lisa Schirch
Common Ground News Service

WASHINGTON -- During her recent visit to Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized the need to foster a relationship of respect between the United States and Pakistan. Although Pakistan's civilian government and military establishment are closely allied with the United States in efforts to stop al-Qaeda, relations between the two countries are fraught with a lack of confidence and miscommunication, creating major obstacles to achieving shared goals.

Military, political or humanitarian confidence-building measures taken to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Pakistani governments could help transform negative public perceptions of the United States in Pakistan and elicit support for U.S. security objectives.

A survey of Pakistani public opinion conducted by the International Republican Institute in March 2009 suggests that approximately 70% of Pakistanis do not support U.S. military incursions in Pakistan. Confidence building efforts must take into account the history of mistrust between the two countries and demonstrate that the United States is taking a new approach to security. The United States must ensure that policies, actions and resources focus on population-centric security and a community-based approach to policing, rather than the enemy-centric approach that has led to further militancy in the past.

Drone strikes are a clear example of an enemy-centric approach to security. Pakistanis see these strikes as further destabilizing the region. Discontinuing them, particularly in populated areas, could serve as a signal to Pakistan that the United States is responding to Pakistani public opinion, and respects the country's territorial sovereignty.

Moving toward population-centric security would involve other measures, such as establishing a military coordination center between U.S. and Pakistani agencies - especially the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, Pakistan's equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as creating hotlines for joint intelligence and using joint military exercises geared toward protecting communities from insurgent violence without the current high levels of civilian casualties.

Members of the Inter-Services Intelligence have often been accused of sympathizing and even supporting the efforts of certain Taliban factions, a claim that Pakistani government agencies vehemently deny. Such claims should be investigated transparently -- and reforms implemented as necessary -- to restore the confidence of both the Pakistani public and the international community.

The United States could do more to acknowledge Pakistan's political interests in the region given its strong partnership with India. India's growing influence in Afghanistan is perceived as a threat to Pakistan's stability. Pakistan, for instance, recently accused India of supporting insurgents inside its territory in Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan.

A holistic international diplomatic effort that recognizes the interlocking nature of conflicts in the region, and includes both high-level principled negotiation and local level reconciliation efforts in its plan to solve them, could pay conflict resolution dividends.

Likewise, a robust diplomatic process to address outstanding political issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the infiltration of militant groups, small arms and narcotics across borders, and Afghanistan's accusation of Pakistan's interference in its domestic matters, is also necessary to build trust.

The United States should ensure a continuous and efficient supply of relief assistance and development aid for the rehabilitation of communities and reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by Pakistani and U.S. military operations against the Taliban. The United States should ensure transparency and assist in planning, implementing and monitoring humanitarian and development initiatives. Pakistani civil society groups and relief agencies could help carry out such initiatives, creating a further avenue for cooperation.

Developing a comprehensive plan for reconstruction efforts should be the centerpiece of humanitarian confidence building between the United States and Pakistan. These kinds of confidence building measures will positively affect perceptions on both sides, creating an environment more conducive to cooperation and long-term stability.

Evolving a meaningful strategic partnership to successfully eliminate the common threat of terrorism requires clearer and more inclusive communication, nurturing better political and social relationships, and demonstrating that counterterrorism interventions will not be at the expense of Pakistan's internal security and displaced communities.

Saira Yamin is a doctoral student from Pakistan at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Lisa Schirch is professor of peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service. Readers may send the authors e-mail at or Search for Common Ground, 1601 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20009.

This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.