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.