WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nominee to be President Barack Obama’s new envoy to Pakistan pledged on Thursday to work aggressively to boost America’s image in the country, where billions in aid spending has done little to convince people of U.S. friendship.
Facing senators frustrated about polls showing nearly 60 percent of Pakistanis view the United States as an enemy, Cameron Munter told a Senate panel he would implement an “integrated strategic” message program in Pakistan if confirmed as ambassador.
“In other words making sure that there’s a broad effort to communicate a set of messages ... not only aimed at having them in a kind of crude sense to appreciate us but to understand us better,” Munter told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Munter, who has served as a diplomat in Serbia and Iraq, said his aim was to get all U.S. personnel delivering the same message, recognizing that “everyone is dealing with the public, from our military to our consuls to our people in our consulates in Lahore and in Karachi.”
Munter is Obama’s choice to succeed Ambassador Anne Patterson, who has earned respect for her handling of U.S.-Pakistani relations during crisis after crisis since she arrived in 2007, including the transition from military to civilian rule.
Managing the complex U.S. relationship with Pakistan, including its role in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, is one of Washington’s most difficult foreign policy challenges.
Pakistan is struggling to recover from devastating floods that have left millions homeless and caused billions in damage to the country’s infrastructure.
Despite a commitment of $7.5 billion in U.S. aid over five years and substantial U.S. flood relief efforts, Pakistanis are skeptical of U.S. intentions.
A Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project poll at the end of July showed only 17 percent of Pakistanis held a favorable view of the United States and 59 percent described it as an enemy.
“Do they have even a modicum of appreciation for what Americans are doing for them?” Republican Senator James Risch asked Munter.
“This government is going to borrow 41 cents out of every dollar it spends this year. I mean this ... is a real sacrifice Americans are making. They’re sacrificing their children’s and grandchildren’s futures in order to build infrastructure in Pakistan,” he said.
Munter said he thought Pakistanis knew about U.S. aid contributions but were skeptical of “why we’re doing it and what our goals are” because of past U.S. aid cutoffs and restrictions.
“The historical experience of America in Pakistan indicates that there have been times of mistrust,” he said, adding that it was important to “make sure we are honest, open, clear” about U.S. aims.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Eric Walsh