Letters to the Editor

Dialogue to strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions

While we certainly welcome debate about the U.S.- Pakistan relations, International Center for Journalism Fellow Zulfiqar Ahmad’s Oct. 20 commentary, U.S. should support Pakistan’s people, not its corrupt politicians, speaks more to the need for responsible journalism than it contributes to advancing that debate.

Ahmad criticizes the United States for standing by the government of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and attacking Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan. He’s wrong on both counts.

I didn’t make statements for or against any politician or political party, but supported Pakistan’s constitution and democratic process. Our position since the protests led by Khan and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri began has been to urge all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect rule of law, expressing our belief that all parties should work together to resolve differences through peaceful dialogue in ways that strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions. That position has been voiced publicly many times and has not changed over the several weeks since the protests began.

Ahmad also takes the U.S. government to task for not removing material from YouTube that is perceived as hateful to Muslims. Naturally, we deplore speech offensive to believers of any and all faiths. However, the U.S has a long tradition of free expression protected by our Constitution. It’s not the U.S. government’s role to police and remove content from online media.

The U.S. also stands accused by Ahmad of pursuing a pro-India stance that puts us at odds with Pakistan’s military. He has it wrong again. We’ve consistently urged both India and Pakistan to strengthen their dialogue and deepen cooperation, through regional trade and energy ties among other ways. We support Pakistan-India relations that contribute to peace and prosperity in the region.

Ahmad mentions that we spend billions in the educational sector. Here he has it right. We do invest heavily in supporting education, both through USAID projects in Pakistan and through exchanges such as the Fulbright program. We also invest heavily in journalism exchanges such as the one Ahmad is participating in, with the goal of equipping Pakistani journalists with the skills necessary to be effective reporters serving the public good. That’s as essential to Pakistani democracy as it is to American or any other democracy.

Richard Olson, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Islamabad