US Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter. — Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: The United States needs to move from a relationship of aid to Pakistan to a partnership of trade, says US Ambassador to Islamabad Cameron Munter.

In a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School on Monday, which focused on the future of US-Pakistan relations, Mr Munter said that relations between the CIA and the ISI were ‘okay’ but ties between the two militaries were “not okay”.

The diplomat emphasised the importance of repairing strained ties between the two countries but cautioned that “assistance to Pakistan should have the goal of ending assistance to Pakistan”.

He said he hoped that one day the current “assistance-based relationship” would morph into a “partnership” fostered by US trade, business and investment.

Intelligence cooperation between the two countries might change when Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha would retire, around March 18, the ambassador said.

Reports in various Harvard media outlets quoted Mr Munter as telling the audience: “The CIA-ISI relationship is still cooperative. The Pakistani government realises that we have a lot in common on counter-terrorism and we still have a decent relationship with the intelligence.” But this might change when Gen Pasha announces his retirement, he added.

The ambassador acknowledged the “military-to-military relationship” between the two countries “has taken a beating”.

Referring to Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s decision to reduce US military presence in Pakistan, Mr Munter said he told the general “when trainers go, equipment has to go to. If you get rid of the boys, then you have to get rid of the toys. He said, ‘I understand’”.

In general, he said, the United States ‘over-promised’ to Pakistan, which raised expectations on both sides.

Mr Munter also said that the US should have a more “modest” relationship with Pakistan — less extensive involvement in Pakistan’s affairs and “less bluster” in the dialogue between them.

He said he believed that the current strain in the US-Pakistan relationship was in part the result of a “wave of idealism” in the US government in 2008.

US leaders at the time “over-promised” extensive commitments to Pakistan, aiming to strengthen the two countries’ relations, Mr Munter said. But those assurances backfired when American leaders failed to deliver on their promises.

There was a contradiction, he said, of America’s long-term and short-term goals.

“In the long-term we have a commitment to stability and parallel processes to efforts in Pakistan,” Mr Munter said, “but on the short-term we focus on counter-terrorism”.

Mr Munter said he endured as the ambassador to Pakistan through major crises.

“We over-promised, not because we meant to over-promise,” Mr Munter said, “but because there was so much of an effort to build a strategic relationship, from issues like water to the role of women in the country”.

Ambassador Munter said he represented the US in Pakistan during crises and “a series of disasters”, including the capture of Osama bin Laden and the Afghan war end game, leading a 2,500-employee embassy.

It was important to understand Pakistani society was distinguishable from the Pakistani state, he said.

“Pakistani society is like a ship that sometimes can’t go forward and it can’t go backward, but it can’t sink,” he said. “It is resilient.”

Deep down, Pakistani politicians do not want Americans to go away, he said.

“What they want is partnership and a better sense of respect,” Mr Munter said. “We need to expand to get them out of a certain narrative they have created about the US. We have to be less arrogant.”

Mr Munter said it was imprudent to ask if Pakistan loved America or vice versa. “Talk about concrete things we can do together,” he said, and asked, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’

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