The Cable

Flood disaster creates opportunity for U.S.-Pakistan relations

The devastating flood in Pakistan has create an opportunity for the U.S. government to show its commitment to the country and improve America's tattered image there, but that will be a tough slog, experts say.

The U.S. government is already heavily involved in the humanitarian response to the flood crisis, shipping tons of food and supplies into the affected areas while helping the Pakistan civilian and military institutions mobilize their response. But in a country that still harbors strong aversions to U.S. influence and remains deeply skeptical of American intentions, progress is likely to be slow.

"These kinds of crises are opportunities for the U.S. to get it right more than before and make a dent in Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S, but there's an underlying structural issue that isn't going to be overcome rapidly, if at all," said Daniel Markey, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The last major improvement in attitudes toward the U.S. in Pakistan was during and immediately after U.S. efforts to respond to the 2005 earthquake near Kashmir, Markey said. But that newfound popularity didn't last because U.S. efforts trailed off and ordinary Pakistanis didn't see Americans sticking around for the long term, he said.

This time may be different. The Obama administration has been aggressively expanding cooperation with Pakistan's civilian government through the 13 working groups that emerged from the new strategic dialogue consultations. And the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill is meant to show Pakistanis that the U.S. is there to stay.

But extremist groups will surely try to use the flood to improve their currently low standing among the public by providing their own assistance efforts, as they did during the earthquake.

"In each of these instances, you can lose ground as well," Markey said.

The large infrastructure, water and energy projects that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled during her visit to Pakistan last month are aimed specifically at getting maximum bang for the buck in terms of changing Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S. -- targeting the middle- and upper-class workers and industrialists who stand to benefit most from economic growth.

"Our goal is, and the secretary's goal of her trip, was to convince Pakistan that U.S. commitment to the region is not short-run, is not limited to our current military engagement," said Vali Nasr, a top advisor to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

So is it working? Well, according to the latest Pew Research Center survey, Pakistani attitudes toward the U.S. are still overwhelmingly negative. Only 17 percent surveyed viewed the U.S. favorably and 59 percent viewed the U.S. as an enemy. However, the numbers have moved up from last year and 64 percent of Pakistanis surveyed said they hoped U.S.-Pakistan relations would improve, despite their skepticism.

The poll numbers don't tell the whole story, American officials argue, and those who traveled with Clinton claimed that her reception was notably warmer in all respects than it was during her previous trip last autumn. For example, she was never asked about drones, and questions about her belief that Pakistani government officials were allowing Osama bin Laden to hide there came primarily from Western journalists, Nasr said.

"It was very clear from the secretary's public engagements this time ... that there was a different tenor to the relationship.  From engagements with the media, town-hall meetings, meetings with business leaders -- the kind of questions she got, the general attitude of Pakistanis towards her trip and towards her message were very different from November," Nasr said.

A significant portion of the Pakistani news media is avowedly anti-American, complicating U.S. and Pakistani government efforts to get the word out.

"Part of it is not just whether we're doing the right things, but whether we have voices that are capable of explaining that to the Pakistani public, which is in a very heated, difficult, and messy media environment," said Markey.

Back at home, the Obama administration's outreach to Pakistan is getting favorable review in some unlikely quarters, such as the Republican caucus in the Senate.

"Things generally are the best they have been with Pakistan in a long time. And this is one area where President Obama doesn't get enough credit," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN's State of the Union. "His team, in my view, have brought out the Pakistanis into the fight better than anybody in recent memory. They are cooperating with us more. They are allowing us to use these drone attacks ... The aid packages that we have given to the Pakistani army have been well used. General Kayani has been a good partner in taking the fight to the frontier regions."

The Cable

Kerry and Lugar introduce new investment fund for Pakistan

Senate Foreign Relations heads John Kerry and Richard Lugar have put forth a bill that would create a new fund to lure private enterprise to Pakistan, using funds out of their own aid bill.

The idea is to use money to help drive capital and foreign direct investment into Pakistan. It's based on similar programs Congress has funded in other parts of the world, such as the Support for East European Development (SEED) Act and the Freedom Support Act (FSA), which authorized nearly $1.2 billion for USAID to establish funds throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

"The United States can help the Pakistani private sector provide jobs, opportunity, and hope to Pakistanis using creative tools such as this Enterprise Fund," Kerry said in a statement July 30. "It's a clear example of how the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package can help make a real difference in stimulating growth in Pakistan based on the remarkable results we have had with similar funds in Eastern Europe and elsewhere."

Last Friday, The Cable reported that the fund was outside of the administration's plan for the Kerry-Lugar aid money. But several administration officials told The Cable that the fund was something the administration has been working on for months and that they completely endorse Congress's efforts to pass legislation to support it.

"Creating an enterprise fund for Pakistan has been a priority for months in the administration and big part of our strategic dialogue with Pakistan," said Vikram Singh, a top advisor to Special Representative Richard Holbrooke. "We have had very productive consultations with Congress on the legislative framework that would be required for such a fund. We are grateful to Senator Kerry and Senator Lugar for their leadership with this bill and hope the House will also support such a fund to help build Pakistan's vibrant private sector."

On her recent trip to Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a set of big projects focused on building up Pakistan's ailing energy, water, and agriculture sectors. The administration's idea is that focusing on large infrastructure investments is the best way to have regular Pakistanis notice the U.S. assistance and therefore provides the best chance of winning over the country writ large.

According to the original bill, the money was to be spent primarily in five areas: building democratic institutions, expanding the rule of law, promoting economic development, investing in education, and strengthening public diplomacy. These are admittedly difficult and ambitious goals, but the administration's focus on infrastructure doesn't really get at them at all, some on the Hill are saying.

A committee staffer wouldn't comment on the Senate's position regarding the projects already announced, but said the committee sees the enterprise fund as something that can go alongside the administration's initiatives.

"This is another tool for them to consider how to spend the funds, it's not meant to micromanage the process in any way or to show umbrage at what the administration is doing," a committee staffer told The Cable.

Another committee aide who worked on the bill said that some in Congress are opposed to the kind of big infrastructure projects that the administration has been rolling out and sees the enterprise fund and other coming congressional initiatives as a way for lawmakers to reassert their influence over how the money is being spent.

Mary Beth Goodman, Holbrooke's top economic advisor, who has taken the lead in the enterprise effort, said that the administration needed congressional authorization because it was a multi-year program. The goal is to put $60 million per year for five years into the fund, she said.

"Pakistan needs the up-front risk capital to spur investment, and we hope to use the enterprise funds in a variety of sectors to facilitate that effort," she said, adding that the Pakistani finance ministry was also on board.