Hillary Clinton on Pakistan-US Relations

Posted on December 14, 2009
Filed Under >Hassan Abbas, Foreign Relations
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Hassan Abbas

I conducted an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC about Pakistan and the United States’ relations with the Muslim world, originally published on my blog Watandost.

Hassan Abbas: During your recent visit to Pakistan, you won the hearts of many through your courageous outreach — visiting Badshahi mosque, participating in television talk shows, interacting with students at country’s premier educational institution Government College Lahore, and most importantly going to the mausoleum of Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who gave the idea of Pakistan. Even those who are critical of the U.S. policy were appreciative of these gestures and it served an important message to those Pakistani politicians also who are not in touch with masses.

What were the signs of hope that you gauged during this visit?

Secretary Clinton: Well, first, the resilience and the courage of the Pakistani people. Everywhere I went, I met people who are speaking out and standing up and working hard, and that was extremely moving to me. I also felt like both the civilian government and the military leadership understood that the threat they faced had to be addressed.

And I thought that was very promising, because the terrorist threat to Pakistanis growing and it’s intense and it can only be defeated by the Pakistani people coming together and rejecting it, in the first instance, trying to present a different narrative than the one that the terrorists are putting forth, using military force where they must, but mostly by developing the democratic institutions, by developing the country, clearly demonstrating that Pakistan has no room for those who want to tear down, because the Pakistan people want to build.

Hassan Abbas: During the said trip you also visited police offices in Islamabad to pay tribute to the sacrifices rendered by police officials in the fight against extremism. You are the first and so far the only foreign leader visiting Pakistan who thought of this. It is becoming clear in Pakistan that the country will not be able to win this battle especially in areas like Punjab and Karachi unless its law enforcement and police forces are reformed and upgraded. I must confess that this topic is of special interest to me as before my academic career in the U.S., I was a police official in Pakistan. Also Pakistan army cannot be expected to fight everywhere in the country. In this context, will the U.S. be supporting police and law enforcement reform agenda in Pakistan?

Secretary Clinton: Well, we would be honored to do so, because I agree with you that the police truly are on the front lines. They often have to deal with the rush of violence that comes in cities or towns and they don’t have the support they need, they don’t often have the equipment that they need. And as you say, I met a number of police officers, both in Lahore and in Islamabad, who are very committed, but under-resourced. And I am more than happy to consider any request from the Pakistani Government to help the police force, because I agree completely that they’re the front line of defense.

Hassan Abbas: Thank you very much. I am sure this would make a headline in Pakistan. I have been in touch with many of my former colleagues in the country and during my research on the subject, I found that Pakistan police is one of the very few organizations in the country where there is an internal institutional effort for reform. I hope your message of support in this sphere will be welcomed and appreciated in Pakistan.

My next question is about U.S. relations with the Muslim world. This U.S. administration has certainly set a new tone of dialogue, reconciliation and respect in this realm. President Obama’s speeches in Turkey and Cairo were absolutely great and gave the right message to the Muslim audiences around the world. What is the follow-up on that? What are the next stages of that relationship?

Secretary Clinton: Well, it’s a great question because we’ve been working very hard on follow-up, and I recently attended a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco where we announced a number of follow-up actions. The one that was just embraced wholeheartedly was the idea of science envoys. I said at the time that much of the science that we take for granted today was really discovered and refined in prior times by Islamic scholars and scientists. And from astronomy to algebra, there’s so much that we owe to the Muslim world, and there needs now to be a renewed emphasis on science, which is not incompatible with religion, and therefore, we’re going to be sending Nobel science prize winners, former heads of the National Academy of Sciences, and so many others to visit universities and governments to try to rekindle that with our help.

We’re also investing in more English language education programs. We’re investing in more business programs, entrepreneurship programs. We’re going to start a series of interfaith dialogues. There will be a lot of follow-up to Cairo because we have had such demand and we’re going to try to meet it.

Hassan Abbas: You are known for your cordial relationship with Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. There is a large Muslim diaspora in the U.S. which I believe can act as a bridge between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Which are the other Muslim diaspora groups in the U.S. that you feel encouraged about and which can play a positive role?

Secretary Clinton: That’s a great question. Well, I do believe that the Palestinian diaspora has been galvanized around economic development. A number of my Palestinian American friends are making investments in the West Bank because the security has improved so much, thanks to the good work of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. So there is a rather dramatic increase in the economic activity in the West Bank which many American Palestinians are investing in.

There are a number of Indian Muslims who are very involved in interfaith and other outreach activities. I do a lot of work with the Bangladeshi community, which is not as involved as the Pakistani community has been in academia or in professional activity, but is really at the grassroots in a lot of countries — or a lot of cities in our country. So I think those are some examples of what we’re working on.

Hassan Abbas: My last question is about India-Pakistan relations. The United States has said many times that it would like to facilitate better India-Pakistan relations and I think there’s no doubt about the sincerity of that purpose. But of course, U.S. has its limitations in terms of how much it can do to bring both parties on the table and perhaps India is not very comfortable with the idea of third party mediation because of its stature, and reasons of history. However, President Obama made an interesting statement on the subject during his recent visit to China. European Union also is interested in playing a role in this arena.

Do you think there might be some possibility in future that E.U., China, and United States altogether can take an initiative to bring Pakistan and India together and help them resolve their differences. We continuously hear that peace in the Af-Pak region is considered the most critical issue for the global security concerns. A global approach hence can be relevant. Do you think such an international effort can work?

Secretary Clinton: I think it could be a guarantor or it could be a positive force for implementation. But I think that the impetus must come from the two countries themselves. And at some point, both countries might say we’ve gotten as far as we can get; therefore we need some support, we need some new energy. But we have to start with the two countries and with their commitment to pursuing this dialogue first.

More commentary and thoughts on my blog Watandost.

28 Comments on “Hillary Clinton on Pakistan-US Relations”

  1. Farrukh says:
    December 14th, 2009 7:25 pm

    Mr. Hassan Abbas. I must say I am quite disappointed in this. I had read your book and thought of you as a strong thinker and straight shooter.

    But Mr. Hassan Abbas seems to be the next Hussain haqqani. This looks like Clinton herself wrote the questions.

    There is certainly no point in being offensive, but this is really absurd and khushamdi. Do you really think that any ordinary Pakistani would could ask questions of Clinton would actually ask these questions. This just looks like the interviewer is working for the State Department. Are you?

  2. Omar Farooq says:
    December 14th, 2009 8:17 pm

    Farrukh, you should read the full interview again because my impression is quite different. Maybe you have become used to watching some Pakistani talk shows! I think Abbas intelligently framed the questions about police – an issue important for ordinary Pakistanis like me atleast.


  3. Arisha says:
    December 14th, 2009 10:05 pm

    I agree with Omar Farooq. Too many Pakistani minds have become so poisoned by the media Taliban on Pakistani TV talk shows that having a decent discussion has become impossible. Also, I see nothing wrong with Hassan Abbas wanting to be the next Hussain Haqqani. We need more Hussain Haqqanis, by which I mean intelligent people respected around the world. So what if the media Taliban do not like him. We must learn to respect people even when we do not agree with their views. Only the Jihadi hardliners promote a view which sees everything in black and white and insists on pulling down everyone that does not conform. Incidentally, did anyone see Pervez Hoodbhoy’s rejoinder to Taliban apologist Shahid Alam of Northeastern University? Here it is:


  4. Gardezi says:
    December 14th, 2009 10:08 pm

    I am also disappointed. I am sorry but this is propaganda for the US and of the worst kind. Even an American interviewer would have asked more honest questions than this.

  5. ASAD says:
    December 14th, 2009 10:09 pm

    By the way, the questions sound more like qaseedahs. And are longer than the answers.

  6. Adnan Ali says:
    December 14th, 2009 11:23 pm

    Well, I will agree with both Farrukh and Asad. I don’t think there was any useful question and of course, there was nothing special in the answers. Sorry, but not a good interview.

  7. Zaheer says:
    December 14th, 2009 11:40 pm

    Well Hillary Clinton is trying hard. But the US policy on Pakistan is so flawed that even she can do very little.

  8. Mahesh Singh says:
    December 14th, 2009 11:48 pm

    First a disclaimer: I am a proud Pakistan hailing from Sindh province – based in New York now. I have to say this as often people react to my views on Pakistani blogospher dismissing those as Indian propaganda.

    I liked the interview for its sophistication and focus. I think Hasan sb disarmed the Secretary by his appreciative tone. He belongs to academia and not media – as journalists are normally more skillful in asking provocative questions. The commentary at the end of the article is quite balanced and in between the lines is critical of the American worldview.

    Lastly, I earnestly hope that Hassan has no intention of becoming a Haqqani. I seriously doubt he can because that needs decades of deceit and treachery and by all accounts this guy is a different kind.

  9. Watan Aziz says:
    December 14th, 2009 11:52 pm

    “they don’t have the support they need, they don’t often have the equipment that they need.”

    They do not have the support they need because they do not use the equipment they have.

    A pen and plenty of paper to file FIRs.

    Perhaps Hassan Abbas can share with us why these two “equipments” do not meet often enough in the police stations of Pakistan.

  10. Qadir says:
    December 15th, 2009 12:21 am

    Yes, another Haqqani in the making!

  11. Baig says:
    December 15th, 2009 12:25 am

    I do not like the Taliban at all. And I think the US is doing many things right and so is Hillary Clinton. But this interview is really propaganda as others have said. And teh language is fawning all over.

    Not even a question about drones or about KLB in a serious way… throw her a soft ball if you want, but at least let her respond to those issues even if in her own way. But to not even raise these hot button issues just makes one loose all credibility.

  12. HarOON says:
    December 15th, 2009 12:39 am

    I agree that this is not a very good interview and sounds naive and gloating, but I think the personal attacks of Hassan Abbas and calling him a Hussain Haqqani (can their be a greater insult) is unfair.

    He is not a professional interviewer so you cannot blame him for a bad interview, but we should not question his integrity.

  13. DARWEESH says:
    December 15th, 2009 4:20 am

    Problem with our Pakistani writers/so called journalists is that they are mostly selfish ,think less about their country( watan) but more about themselves ,a cheapish approach

  14. December 15th, 2009 7:17 am

    the international image of Pakistan can be improved if the peace loving middle class majority speaks out through media. This will in turn attract investors and also rotate the industry wheel. We require to take in confidence other nations to survive and get rid of extremism.

  15. Saira says:
    December 15th, 2009 8:38 am

    Hassan’s observation that Hillary’s passion for Pakistan is palpable is probably true but it is also a fact that US has a certain degree of arrogance when it looks at the global issues.
    Thanks to the interviewer for taking up the issue of regional dynamics in South Asia if Afghanistan has to be rescued. I think that is the most important point of the interview.
    Overall B+ for the interview but A for the commentary/notes at the end.

  16. Eidee Man says:
    December 15th, 2009 8:51 am

    Unusual interview in that it seems like the interviewer says much more than than the person being interviewed!

    I am very skeptical about this idea of the police being the most important institution in preventing terrorist attacks. No one will disagree with the fact that the police officers have been at the front lines and have suffered a great deal. However, even the best equipped police officer cannot compete with a militant bent on destruction. Even in the U.S. there are areas in virtually every city where drugs and street violence are rampant and the police are well-aware, but simply cannot do anything about it.

    Also, I especially don’t understand the relevance of questions about America and the Muslim world. What does this have to do with the current situation in Pakistan? Why are we still so adamant about injecting ourselves into Arab affairs, when we see the great damage it has caused us?

  17. Batool says:
    December 15th, 2009 12:12 pm

    Not impressive. I think all interviewers should be polite and decent, but that does not mean they have to be limp and self-serving and khushaamdi. No US anchor will ever ask such soft-ball questions. Poor Show.

  18. Asif says:
    December 15th, 2009 2:34 pm

    The conversation is very insightful and informative. Hillary Clinton clearly has a soft corner for Pakistan – and Hasan asked good and relevant questions (though he projected his own views as well). I must admit being a New Yorker, I am also a fan of Hillary.
    The comments indicate also how Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans differ in their perspectives.

  19. Aqil says:
    December 15th, 2009 6:20 pm

    Comparing Hassan Abbass with Hussain Haqqani is totally unfair.

  20. SJH says:
    December 15th, 2009 10:12 pm

    Why must all interviews be antagonistic? Here we have a person, the US Secretary of State, reaching out and searching for solutions. A tough interview with her would have served nothing other than to pander to some misguided sense of vengeance. Hassan Abbas’ approach is much more naunced. He has asked tough questions in a thoughtful way, so as to actually get an answer rather than simply making “points”. There can be minor quibbles about some questions but an intelligent effort overall.

  21. Eidee Man says:
    December 15th, 2009 10:31 pm

    From the comments it seems like some are taking offense at criticism of this interview. I don’t think anyone here is implying that Hassan Abbas should have adopted a more aggressive attitude and acted impolitely; his tone is perfectly fine, and that’s how it should be.

    However, the questions seem to be geared towards getting Hillary’s agreement on Hassan’s personal views; I’ve seen him speak and these topics come up quite often. Again, I find it odd that he says almost as much as Hillary.

  22. AJ says:
    December 16th, 2009 2:22 am

    No one is saying that he should have been angry or ill-manaere. But there is no substance in the questions. Only wide-eyed glee and meaningless praise. None of teh issues that face this relationship today are raised. Only trying to impress her with statements of “I am more loyal than the king.” unfortunately it is a Hussain Haqqani performance. Disappointing because one used to think highly of Hassan Abbas.

  23. Asif Khattak says:
    December 16th, 2009 10:05 am

    It was a pleasant surprise to hear positive statement from Hillary Clinton about Palestinian diaspora in the United States. It was intelligent on the part of interviewer to raise issues related to Muslims in the West and the positive role they can play.
    I agree with Eidee Man that the questions were long but as SJH rightly said these were thoughtful statements meant to convey his perspective to Hillary. A scholar was expected to pursue such a strategy. Well done.

  24. December 16th, 2009 11:53 am

    Hassan Abbas is a renowned scholar and intellectual of Pakistan. Those who are blaming him of being using soft language should know that most of Pakistanis including myself while living in our home country fully support Drone Attacks and KLB because Drones have practically shattered back-bone of Al-Qaeda and TTP in recent months killing Mehsud,Yahyo,Yaldashev,Abu Yazid Al-Libi and recently Abu Yahya Al-Libi. Regarding Hussain Haqqani like genius who can feel the pulse of powerful political pillars of State department and Capital Hill and such a vibrant diplomat who outscore powerful and to some extent biased media powerful groups of West while presenting his case , is far better than those sfarshi , lazy cows of foreign office in other countries just enjoying without doing anything positive for thier country.

  25. Sheeraz says:
    December 16th, 2009 2:16 pm

    Pretty lame interview. A person here linked an article of Pervez Hoodbhoy in Counterpunch. While he might have made some good he points, he seriously needs to reconsider his position. I have failed to understand why the Pakistani government has not kicked him out of his job. If he is so interested in activism then he should resign and join the ranks of his fellows.

  26. December 17th, 2009 7:22 am

    long gone days are still being bragged upon? What is all this. We should urge the media to keep us in the present rather than in the past. Lets all unite and fight extremism and also ask the media to leave bragging about things long gone and talk on the current situation.

  27. Athar says:
    December 17th, 2009 3:44 pm

    Great Interview! Keep up great work.

    And, to the critics – what are you guys really mad about? I mean, what exactly in this interview inflamed you? Did it bother you, that this interview didn’t flare up any conspiracy theories, dogmatic utopia, or apologetic nonsense?

    Sehar Tauqeer has captured the essence, and explained really well my sentiments as well.

    By open dialogue and rational communication – only then, we can expect to resolve complex problems.

  28. Riaz Haq says:
    December 17th, 2009 10:32 pm

    The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s botched attempts at public diplomacy drew sharp rebuke from an American in Pakistan. Todd Shea, the head of Comprehensive Disaster Response Services in Pakistan, criticized Clinton’s statements during her recent visit as “insensitive, corrosive, arrogant and flat out wrong”. The CDRS is an NGO on the ground in Kashmir and it has been working to provide a field medical center and healthcare services to the earthquake victims in Azad Kashmir since 2005. Like Greg Mortenson’s work on building schools, the work done by Todd Shea’s relief efforts have engendered positive feelings among Pakistanis toward the Americans. In effect, Greg and Todd have been attempting to fill the vacuum left by the US State Department in practical public diplomacy on the ground in Pakistan. After Hillary’s visit, I believe the US would be better off in Pakistan with more of Greg and Todd than Hillary’s tough talk to win hearts and minds of the people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


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