Assignment Islamabad: Preparing To Serve at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan

Posted by Courtney Beale
August 31, 2010
A Pakistani Border Guard Stands Near Pakistan's Gate

About the Author: Courtney Beale will soon depart for Islamabad, Pakistan as Assistant Information Officer. During her assignment, she will contribute regularly to DipNote, so look for updates from her in the near future.

In a 2001 editorial, Richard Holbrooke asked, "How can a man in a cave out-communicate the world's leading communications society?" Since then, the U.S. government has worked hard to improve its ability to communicate its views and create dialogues to further mutual understanding, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I want to be part of that effort. In my role as a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department, I will be serving as an Assistant Information Officer at the Public Affairs Section in the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad for the next year.

To prepare for my assignment, I'll be taking public diplomacy and Urdu training. I've just finished a month-long course at the Foreign Service Institute for Information Officers. We've focused on how to understand our audience, engage with the press, and counter misinformation. We learned about working with traditional media and how social media helps us reach out and dialogue directly with people all over the world. We set up mock press conferences and TV interviews, discussed strategies for using Facebook, and tweeted in foreign languages. I'm excited to take what I've learned and have the opportunity to work with the Pakistani press to explain U.S. policy and engage with the Pakistani people through the media.

In addition to increasing development resources, the Public Affairs Section is increasing the number of staff devoted to working with the press. When Secretary Clinton was in Islamabad recently, she was asked at a town hall event about the U.S. government's engagement with the Pakistani media. She responded that, "[F]or both our respect that Pakistan has such a free media environment and our desire to try to set the record straight where we think it is not, we have drastically increased our involvement with the media." She also asked for ideas about what else we could be doing. The first step in any public diplomacy journey is to listen, so I'm interested in what more you think we should be doing to reach out to the Pakistani people? How else can we work with the press to convey that we understand the country's needs and are working in partnership on their priority areas such as flood relief, energy projects, education, and infrastructure?

For example, the United States reacted quickly to the recent flooding in Pakistan, delivering halal meals and helicopters to rescue people stranded by high water within days. The State Department created a web page specifically dedicated to sharing with the public the latest U.S. official remarks, fact sheets, and donor contact information: www.state.gov/pakistanflooding. In addition to the U.S. assistance of $200 million dollars to flood relief, Secretary Clinton announced August 18 that people can provide immediate assistance to flood victims using their mobile phones and online. The U.S. government, through the Department of State, has established the Pakistan Relief Fund for all to join in the tremendous relief, recovery and reconstruction effort. Individuals, corporations, and other organizations can send much needed help to the people of Pakistan by contributing to this fund at www.state.gov. In the United States, individuals can send $10 through mobile phones by texting "FLOOD" to 27722.

Secretary Clinton spoke directly to the people of Pakistan during her two trips there in the last year. After a year of anticipation, I'm excited to move to Islamabad in September and follow up on her good work!

I hope that by sharing my experiences that I can help bring two great countries closer together in some small way. That won't be easy, nor will it be quick. But join me for this adventure as write about my experiences preparing for and serving in the Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Please check back soon for my next update.

Comments

Comments

Khadija
|
Illinois, USA
August 31, 2010

Khadija in Illinois writes:

Dear Courtney
Wish you all the best for your assignment and hope you do make a difference in the pivotal relationship that is marred with many miscommunication gaps and political gaffes along the borders of this decade.

As a American of Pakistan origin, i can very well see the daunting task ahead of you. Pakistan society is infected with misinformation plague and media is young and naive. The maturity offcourse comes with age and experience but as a native of United states and as i am sure well trained on the cultural difference, i hope you can seat yourself deeply into the mindset of pakistan society. That will help you a lot to achieve your goals. My email is attached with this comment and i can offer you assistance in understanding the culture and how the community in Pakistan works to understand geo political arena with the view of a common man, which i am sure you will find helpful as mostly you will be meeting the prime officials and society elite which have brought Pakistan to this stage to begin with.
Also, i do not know if you are aware of this or not but Americans of Pakistan origin have been facing discrimination by foriegn embassies in United states, most notable, Indian embassy which refuses to Recognizes them as Americans and does not allow then to use their US passport for travel.
Issues like these bring a massive tide of dissapointment and no aid can remedy that. Equal rights bestowed to ALL americans by countries who enjoy equal and fair treatment of their citizens by our government MUST reciprocate.
Thank you so much

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
September 1, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Courtney,

Well there's one thing that came to mind after seeing a few motorcycle races from the "helmet cam" perspective on You-tube, and for relatively cheap, a creative person might take the tech and document relief efforts as one way of showing Congress where all the money goes, and documenting Pakistani history in the making for their own government records of US involvement in the crisis. These could also be used as training video for future FSO's.

Which by the way the flooding in scope kind of surpasses any disaster training manual's specs.

If I'm correct, no nation has ever contemplated a disaster affecting 20 million people at once in the modern era unless it was a nuclear war.

Add to the floods the risk of famine and disease outbreak and you have one heck of a assignment.

So like when the AP, Rueters, or Pakistani press asks you "What has USAID or the State dept done for folks lately?", you can just drop a video copy of this week's efforts in their laps and say "Here's your raw footage guys."

See, that way you make it easy for the press to get the rest of the story out.

Safe travels,

EJ

Sarah
|
Pakistan
September 1, 2010

Sarah in Pakistan writes:

Dear Courtney,
I wish you the best of luck with your assignment. I hope that we in Pakistan make you feel welcome once you arrive inshAllah!

With growing anti-US sentiment in the country, the task ahead is a daunting one, but one that can be achieved, nevertheless.

I believe that there is miscommunication on both sides and that Americans in the United States are often misinformed of the situation, and the people of Pakistan. In order to step forward in the right direction, efforts need to be made on both sides to help decrease feelings of mistrust and ill will on both sides.

I look forward to reading about your adventures in Pakistan.

Safe travels!

Rob A.
|
California, USA
September 9, 2010

Rob A. in California writes:

Great stuff, Courtney -- travel well!

Rachel
|
Germany
September 15, 2010

Rachel in Germany writes:

Thank you so much for writing about your experience, Courtney. You have already taught me much about Pakistan and have certainly piqued my interest to learn more.

Your writing will help people gain perspective and build knowledge about Pakistani culture, government and life. I can't wait to read more.

Best of luck in this ambitious pursuit!

Rachel

Naeem S.
|
Illinois, USA
September 20, 2010

Naeem S. in Illinois writes:

Hi Courtney..
Its September now and I hope you are in Islamabad.. Like Khadija, I am also Pakistani-American, but a naturalized one, I moved here in 1976 after I finished my high school (in Lahore) and have kept up with the family and friends in Pakistan. I often visit Pakistan and find myself explaining to the locals, I meet, (I speak fluent Urdu, Panjabi etc..), the American views and issues. As, it has been reported that the people in Pakistan are easily influenced with the conspiracy theories and these people are not only in villages but in major cities as well, and they really start to believe what they hear from their neighbors or people in their network including the media. Then when I come back here to the states, there are many people here as well who also either have no clue what is going on in Pakistan or start to believe what is reported in the US media. As you know about the US media, “if it bleeds, it leads..” Unfortunately there has been lot of bleeding going on in Pakistan..
I was very glad to see the US policy to target towards people of Pakistan, education and investments. I often feel that with my unique background, I can help and make a contribution to bridge the gap… but don’t know where to start.. Is it possible for you to share with me who and where I can contact to be in that position, does not have to Government, can be NGO’s or any other organization?
Thanks and Good Luck with the assignment.

Courtney B.
|
Pakistan
September 22, 2010

DipNote Blogger Courtney Beale replies:

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments. I am in Islamabad now and am thinking about how to incorporate your ideas in to my work here.

I really enjoyed hearing from the Pakistani-Americans, since you all play such an important role of building bridges and increasing understanding between the two countries.

In response to Naeem: I'd recommend contacting the recently formed American Pakistan Foundation ("http://www.americanpakistan.org/"), which is working on many of the issues you discussed.

Shukriya!
Courtney

Sarah K.
|
Pakistan
September 23, 2010

Sarah K. in Pakistan writes:

Hi Courtney and welcome to Pakistan (:
I hope that your first few weeks in Islamabad have been smooth running. (The weather sure has been kind).
If you could talk a little more about what you will be doing as part of your job as a Foreign Service Officer it would allow for a more constructive dialogue.
I look forward to future posts from you!
Khuda Hafiz,
Sarah.

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