What sickens ‘tough-talking’ Munter?
June 01, 2012
Cameron Munter, a Ph.D in modern European history and US ambassador to Pakistan, has decided to shorten his stay in Islamabad, which was expected to extend to November 2013. He announced his decision to this end early this month and the State Department confirmed it, insisting that he was retiring on personal reasons and that the episode could not be related to uneasy ties between Washington and Islamabad.
Munter displayed an exceptional courage to expose himself to the local media but this complicated his task due to exceptional circumstances that ultimately pushed Islamabad to see off its frontline role and end all its cooperation with the NATO. It’s the media’s ‘fastness’ that has just made his job difficult — he is tired and wants rest.
When Munter was confirmed by the Congress for his posting in Islamabad on October 1, 2010, Hindustan Times reported him as a tough-talking diplomat. But the sufferings of the people due to flash floods of the year did not permit him to give such an impression in the early days of his appointment. He was spotted carrying food bags on his shoulders and visiting the affected areas with a pledge to do more for the country in trouble.
Later he did tour the country and visited shrines and other historic places praising the country’s rich heritage and cultural diversity. He was hopeful that Pak-US ties would touch new heights during his stay in Islamabad. To him, the country was in a state of transition and duly believed that Pakistanis were ‘actually’ peace loving people and needed help to combat religious militancy. But all went against his expectations when Pakistan finally refused to play any part in executing he US exit plan (from Afghanistan).
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Hillary Clinton and Admiral Mullen were urging on Pakistan to take part in NATO summer campaign to target militants in southern Afghanistan. Pakistan was specially asked to take on Haqqani Network, which they believed was using FATA as a sanctuary in its cross-border attacks but Islamabad delayed the matter till flash floods of 2010 hit it displacing millions of people. The Obama administration extended an unprecedented help to Pakistan to fight the disaster hoping it will reciprocate by playing the crucial role in executing its exit plan. These were the times when Munter was confirmed by the Congress as the US ambassador to Pakistan.
Munter had already been posted in Serbia and Iraq and had a vast experience of helping the countries as they passed through the process of reconstruction. To his understanding, his job was not different in Pakistan devastated by floods and worsely affected by the scourge of terrorism.
Munter’s statements during his earlier days of appointment reflect his belief that the PPP was firm in its resolve to fight Al-Qaeda-sponsored militancy that had hit its top leadership and massacred innocent people through suicide attacks across the country. But at the same time, Washington believed that Pakistan’s reluctance to take action against Haqqani network was due to its army that had in the past strong ties with the militant outfit.
The more the US endorsed the view that Pakistan Army and the government were at variance over clearing FATA of militants, particularly those active in Afghanistan, the more the civil-military relations improved and the time came when Premier Gilani came out in full support of the army saying that he accepted the responsibility of whatever it did,
Here comes May 2, 2011. The US Navy SEALs raided a house in Abbotabad, the garrison city, and killed the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden. Munter did talk tough this time and questioned as to what the Al-Qaeda leader, who had led the US and its allies to launch war against Taliban regime, was doing just hundred meters away from the gates of the military academy. To his surprise, the Gilani regime took the plea that it was just an intelligence failure, a matter which it would probe into. Washington too did not take the government to task and tried to put the matter under blanket.
The Taliban attack on Kabul, hitting the US embassy and ISAF headquarters on September 13, 2011 exposed the deep distrust the two countries had developed against each other. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by Haqqani group. Admiral Mike Mullen came to the open to blame ISI for assisting the assailants. In the midst of the US blame game, NATO airstrike killed more than two dozen Pakistani soldiers at a military outpost. Pakistan this time reacted: ended military cooperation with NATO/ISAF that it badly needed to secure success in the south-eastern Afghanistan. Further, it got vacated Shamsi airbase and cut NATO supplies via land. The parliament was tasked to decide at to what sort of relations Pakistan would have with America.
Despite all mishaps, Cameron Munter was of the view that the trust gap could be bridged provided that his country apologised, as demanded by Pakistan, for the Salala incident and stopped the drone attacks but Washington went the other way. In a situation Pakistan has suspended cooperation with NATO/ISAF and is no more a partner in the War on Terror; the Obama administration can’t stop drone strikes, for it is the only way to ensure the security of its 100,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Munter’s decision to leave Pakistan is more about his personal integrity than his being at variance with the Obama administration. He is not that a professional diplomat who should toe the line of his political bosses blindly. Probably, he is facing some ‘academic puzzles’ and needs peace of mind — Pakistani media, yes, he is right: it is noisy and irritating and his predecessors had never made a serious effort to handle it properly.