Ambassador Sherry Rehman’s speech at farewell dinner
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to come to the Pakistan Embassy Residence this evening.
Transitions, just as death and taxes, are a certainty in life.
After an eventful eighteen months in Washington DC as Pakistan’s ambassador, I am looking at three transitions.
The first is of course the historic election held in Pakistan after which one democratically elected government is succeeding another democratically elected government – a first in Pakistan’s history. I am confident that this will be the first of many, many more which has already taken Pakistan by a quantum leap, into another league of countries entirely. I am very proud to say that today you are standing at the embassy residence of the fifth largest democracy in the world.
This election also gave us one more compelling reminder of Pakistan’s unique resilience, its catalogue of everyday braveries. Hundreds died to the bombs of the terrorists who sent out daily warnings drenched in the blood of innocent citizens, against voting, against this election, against democracy, exhorting voters to stay home. But in the most powerful message that Pakistan could have unanimously given, our nation stared down, firmly and unequivocally, all those terrorists who tried to block their right to vote. Almost 30 people died just that day to the bullets of the militants, but Pakistan stayed firm in its resolve, and as in the 2008 election, chose the power of the ballot over the bullet.
The second transition that impacts Pakistan is going to be the ongoing drawdown of Nato forces next door in Afghanistan, and the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
As my leader, Benazir Bhutto always said, Democracies prefer to bet on peace, by and large, and I am confident that Pakistan will continue on the path to promoting stability and peace in the region, both with Afghanistan and India. There is no silver bullet to a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, where all stakeholders should have an interest in democracy and inclusion, but that is certainly the policy path Pakistan has been pursuing.
The third transition is why we are gathered here tonight. It is time for me to move on after eighteen months as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.
I can use any number of adjectives to describe those eighteen months. They were certainly tumultuous, and in the first seven months when in the fallout of Salala, the GLOCS remained closed, they were indeed challenging. Sleeplessness became the norm for me and my senior colleagues, especially my able lieutenant and friend, the DCM Dr Asad Majid. It was literally the reddest eye job in our diplomatic list. Travelling constantly took such a high toll that the previous SRAP, Marc Grossman, and myself broke a foot each, but the reward of getting the Pak-US relationship back on its feet eclipsed all the demands. So above all else, I would say that these were some of the most rewarding eighteen months of my life.
As we all know, relations between states have their own dynamics. But,I would like to think that in some small measure, my outstanding team and I were able to help our two countries navigate some very turbulent waters and onerous challenges in our relationship.
Throughout this endeavour, I was guided by two firm beliefs. One, it is in Pakistan’s best interest to have sustained, good relations with the US on the basis of mutual respect. Two, it is also in the US national interest to have a long-term, transparent relationship with Pakistan, a country much commented upon in the US, but in reality little understood, and even less appreciated.
I am fortunate that I found friends on the US side, many of whom are here this evening, who shared this vision with me, and together, guided by our respective leaderships, we were able to steer the bilateral ship to calmer waters.
As I leave Washington, I have the satisfaction of knowing that Pakistan and the US are on the cusp of a new normal, a less hyberpolic relationship, but one founded as much on the sustainable continuum of shared democratic values instead of only the sharp, edge of strategic compulsions. Both sides have moved from crisis management to the search for constant coordination and better cooperation; in fact the next ambassador will have his or her hands full with visiting working teams on both sides, as I have recently been happy to have, across the full spectrum of the resumed bilateral dialogue.
Certainly, wherever we are today, I can say with some conviction that that our bilateral relationship will be the stronger for being founded on more transparent foundations. In the interests of building hedges against recurring fragility, we have worked hard to bring clarity and candour into all our discussions, as both are critical components for bridging the trust disconnect we often encountered between the policy communities of both countries. I would urge all negotiators to invest in enhanced clarity, and transparency to the table.
As we look to the future, there are three things I would say to all the friends and interlocuters that work on deepening this relationship in their different roles: One, Look to trade as the engine for enhanced partnership, and be more attentive about its power to transform the dynamics of the relationship in a more sustainable sense. Two, reach out to each other as real partners, which means despite the challenges in doing so, the US needs to find a path to ending drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory. This kind of footprint roils anti-American discontent and fuels the cognitive disconnect between the two nations to a point where Americans ask why Pakistanis bristle at the thought of an anti-terror tool while they try to fight it all levels themselves? I raise this issue here not just as a Pakistani ambassador reflecting sentiment on our street, but as a friend of the US, because every time there is a drone attack back home, 50 news channels all over Pakistan broadcast the image of a US-fueled drone attacking our soil, while the people here do not even know about it. So this is one thing that has to change if we are ever to be sanguine that we are on the path to an upward bilateral trajectory. Terrorism is as much Pakistan’s own battle as poverty and illiteracy. We don’t need a foreign instrument of attack that adds the baggage of false choices to a discourse that should be very simple: Pakistanis are all standing up to terrorism in their daily lives, and will continue to do so. This election proved it so.
Third, let us learn to acknowledge each other’s roles in the good work we do, and desist from a deluge of constant public blame apportioning. We live in a tough neighbourhood, and I agree we have a long way to go in terms of good self governance, but while we are on that path, I take this opportunity to say to the people of the United States, stand by our side as you have done so many times in history. But stand by us as long term friends, for the right reasons, and we can achieve many breakthroughs together.
I am happy to say that many key interlocuters in Washington do think along those lines. I have been fortunate to count on them as friends, and I will always cherish these friendships. Apart from my excellent team, whom I have to thank for being my extended family here in Washington, I have to thank my husband who racked up thousands of air miles between DC and Islamabad in an attempt to keep me smiling.
I hope that you will all assiduously ignore travel advisories and visit us in Pakistan.
God bless Pakistan and the United States of America and the friendship between our two great countries.
May 17, 2013