The United States’ diplomatic relationship with Pakistan is complicated, but critical. The visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on July 31 was an opportunity for him to emphasize the positive aspects of the relationship, and to reiterate continued U.S. support for Pakistan.
The Secretary is no newcomer to Pakistan. Rather, he is a household name and widely admired. The Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act of 2009 pledged to Pakistan an unprecedented $7 billion in civilian assistance. Kerry had already visited Pakistan ten times as a U.S. Senator.
Nonetheless, the Pakistani media had speculated on when now-Secretary Kerry would call on the newly elected leadership. The historic May election - the first democratic transfer of power from one civilian government to another in the country’s 66-year history - resulted in victory for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
During a joint press availability with Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz, the Secretary underscored our mutual interests by saying that the United States and Pakistan face a common enemy in terrorism.
He emphasized that extremists have failed to bring tangible benefits to the people of Pakistan by asking, “How many bridges have those terrorists offered to build? How many schools have they opened? How many economic programs have they laid out for the people? How many energy plants have they tried to build?”
The Secretary is deeply committed to supporting the people of Pakistan, and he took the opportunity to affirm the long-term U.S. commitment to Pakistan and the Pakistani people.
His sincerity showed when Kerry broke the Ramadan fast with five talented Pakistani women who had participated in U.S.-funded educational programs. The conversation over traditional Pakistani iftar fare (dates, pakora, and samosa) aired live on prime-time TV, as families turned on the television during Ramadan sunsets to hear azan, the call to prayer.
Kerry told the young women at the table, “Each of you have had this special input from your parents, which makes a lot of difference. A lot of kids aren’t lucky enough to get that. And so there’s a real divide early on. But the other thing is, you’ve also pushed against resistance [to achieve an education]. You’ve been so determined to do this.”
Environmental Studies student Aqeela Moheen added, “I’m from a very small village, so I think these exchange programs are really changing our minds and our contribution towards our community. I am so proud and so satisfied that I got into environmental sciences that when I go back to my village, I tell other students that there are many other fields, many other opportunities, scholarships; they can go to the United States as part of their university education.”
“If you ever come to Washington, come say hello,” Kerry invited. “You can do the decorating,” Kerry said to Shah Rukh, who runs her own interior design company.
Rukh replied, “When I first came to the State Department, I said ‘Wow! Lots of work needs to be done here!’”
“I’m on it,” the Secretary said with a laugh.