Ambassador Munter misunderstood Imran Khan

Published: July 18, 2012
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Imran Khan said that Ambassador Munter either misunderstood or misquoted his words. PHOTO: AFP

Ambassadors usually choose their words carefully. However, in a recent interview with BBC Urdu, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, stated that he had met with PTI Chairman Imran Khan and PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif and that both leaders had assured him of a pro-US government if elected.

This was either a misinterpretation on his part or wishful thinking and shows the dangers of careless talk or reporting. Imran Khan has said on many occasions that he is not for or against the US, but that he is against specific US policies. In a 2011 interview on CNN’s ‘Face the Nation’, Khan stated unequivocally that Islamabad cannot afford to make an enemy of the US and that he seeks middle ground and, more importantly, equality in the US-Pakistan relationship.

In my numerous conversations with Khan, I find him to be a pragmatist and an intellectual thinker, not a blind ideologue. He does, however, reflect the anger of the Pakistani people about the long war on its borders. This war has taken 40,000 Pakistani lives in seven years of fighting with no definitive victory in sight. Pakistan is tired of fighting America’s war, he said, and any student of history would recognise the folly of trying to achieve a military solution in the tribal areas. This makes him neither for nor against the United States, but above all, he is a staunch supporter of Pakistan’s sovereignty and its desire for putting an end to being used as ‘a hired gun’ in the war in Afghanistan.

Imran Khan said that Ambassador Munter either misunderstood or misquoted his words and reiterated to reporters that the PTI has been saying since the beginning that war is not the answer to terrorism. The killing of Pakistani soldiers in a drone attack, the capture and killing of Bin Laden by American forces on Pakistani territory and the use of Pakistani land routes to provision the allies in Afghanistan are all perceived as affronts to Pakistan’s sovereignty. The US pursuit of a war on terrorism is proving as futile as the war on drugs and the war on poverty. Both countries need to reappraise the situation and as the manifesto of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party states, both countries need to establish a new paradigm of mutually beneficial relations with the US based on shared interests and common values.

Pakistan needs to recognise that it has many allies in the US when it comes to hatred of war, corruption, bigotry, ignorance and racism. Even if they have been unable to dominate in the current US Congress, Americans are continuing to campaign for an end to the Afghanistan war and the diversion of funding instead to health, education and job creation. Tired of George Bush’s wars, Americans are looking to find that elusive middle ground to which Imran Khan refers.

Both Pakistan and the United States are facing elections that are crucial to their futures. Let us hope that shared interests and common values prevail.

In the meantime, Ambassador Munter has announced his early retirement, choosing his words more carefully on that occasion. Of course, the media will always have their own interpretation, as unfortunately the ‘middle ground’ does not make headlines.

Read more by Azeem here or follow him on Twitter @AzeemIbrahim

Azeem.Ibrahim

Azeem Ibrahim

An International Security and Geopolitics Lecturer at the University of Chicago. Fellow and Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and World Fellow at Yale. He is the Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and he tweets as @AzeemIbrahim (twitter.com/AzeemIbrahim)

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