Did Cameron Munter Say US Has Right To Interfere In Pak Affairs?

Jan 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Dawn, The Nation, The News

Cameron MunterA recent speech by Cameron Munter has taken on a life and a meaning all its own thanks to the ‘spin doctors’ at our media groups. Rather than reporting the actual statements, media groups are adding an interpretation of their own which reinforces predetermined ideas, but does not accurately reflect the statements of the American official.

As is well known by now, the new American Ambassador Cameron Munter in a speech at the Islamabad Programme in Global Studies, a think tank, included the following statement about US interest in Pakistan’s economic affairs. A full transcript of the statement is available from the home page of the US Embassy web site. Now, let us consider this statement in its full context and not cut and pasted as it appears in the newspapers.

The second criticism is that we have been intrusive on financial and governance issues — that we have been demanding where we should be respectful. Well, the reality is that we are both. We are demanding and respectful. And we will continue to be so when defending or promoting rights and obligations that have been incorporated into multilateral agreements or are accepted universal principles.. But I would add that we make every effort to do so with full respect for and understanding of Pakistan’s traditions, culture and legal and constitutional history.

If we seem intrusive, it is because we care. We are Pakistan’s largest donor. Our aid comes as an outright grant of assistance, which is very different from offering loans that must be repaid. Therefore, we need to be sure that the American taxpayers sees that any foreign government, including yours, is making good use of its resources and responding effectively to its citizen’s needs in a transparent and accountable manner. A large proportion of our aid projects, in fact, are built around the idea of helping Pakistani government institutions – be they federal, provincial, or local – become more responsive. We could just build roads or schools and be done with it. But how would they be sustained? Who would staff and maintain these structures in years to come? That is why we focus so much on helping Pakistan build effective state institutions and a robust economy.

The American Ambassador is clearly saying that, because the US is granting direct aid and not making loans to be repaid, they want to know that their money is not being misused. For a media that collectively seems to think the most important issue facing the nation is corruption, one might be forgiven for thinking such an assurance that the US is not willing to fund corruption would be welcomed. Furthermore, the Ambassador never says that the US has a ‘right’ to interfere – what he actually says is that the US may ‘seem’ intrusive because of its concerns, and then he explains why this is a mistaken impression. Actually the Ambassador says quite explicitly that even when the US gives some advice, it does so “with full respect for and understanding of Pakistan’s traditions, culture and legal and constitutional history”.

But it appears that another one of the media’s bogey men is more easily attacked here – American interference. With the actual context of the statement now easily before our very eyes, let us review a sample of the headlines that have appeared in popular newspapers:

The News (Jang Group): U.S has right to interfere in Pakistan’s economic, governance affairs: Munter

The Nation: U.S has right to interfere in Pak affairs: Munter

Despite the alarmist headlines and the way the reporters and editors cut and pasted Ambassador Munter’s statement, the fact is he never said US has a right to interfere in Pakistan’s affairs. That never happened.

The closest to correct is Dawn‘s headline: Munter’s blunt talk: we pay so we intrude, but even this article begins with a claim that “US Ambassador Cameron Munter has justified American meddling in Pakistan’s ‘financial and governance’ matters for being its largest aid provider.” By using words such as ‘justified’ and ‘meddling’, what we have here is the reporter, Baqir Sajjad Syed, inserting his own bias that does not appear in the transcript.

As is clear to anyone who will read the full speech, Ambassador Munter said that the US wants to be certain that Pakistan “is making good use of its resources and responding effectively to its citizen’s needs in a transparent and accountable manner.”

Again, with the constant refrain from Jang Group and The Nation that a culture of corruption in government is ruining the country, you would think these media groups would be cheering for Ambassador Munter’s call for transparency and accountability.

Far from being a statement that the US has bought the right to interfere with Pakistan’s affairs, Ambassador Munter sounds more like any responsible investor. Surely the US would not be providing billions to Pakistan if it did not believe the country will succeed. But like a man that invests in his brother’s business, he wants to help his brother succeed not only by providing a financial investment but by giving some advice on how the investment can be used to maximize the return.

It should also be noted that none of the newspapers appear to have called the Embassy to ask for a clarification of the statement. Rather the reporters and editors simply cut and pasted the Ambassador’s words and gave their own interpretation. In other countries, journalists will give the courtesy of contacting officials to get a statement and will print that statement in their article so that readers have all the facts and all sides of the story and can make up their own minds.

It appears that in this case, the news media has jumped on an opportunity to twist the words of an American diplomat to promote the belief that the US is duplicitous in its support for Pakistan. As happens far too often, once a transcript of a statement is reviewed, it becomes apparent that what is being reported is not objective facts but a political agenda. Perhaps Ambassador Munter should have chosen his words more carefully. Now that he has been introduced to the way our media is willing to twist people’s words, he surely will the next time.

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