In her first public engagement since assuming office two weeks ago, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington Sherry Rehman reached out to the Pakistani-Americans to seek their support towards better Pakistan-U.S. relations, which she underscored, must be based on “mutual respect, interests and shared values.”
“This embassy is not going to work alone in Washington. It is going to work with many ambassadors, which are yourselves, to attempt to change the way this important bilateral relationship works,” Ambassador Rehman said.
Speaking about Pakistan-U.S. relations, the Ambassador said these are certainly not “normal” times.
The relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. has never been as important, yet the tensions have never been so grave, she said, noting that repeated episodes in recent times undermined the bilateral ties.
She informed the gathering of Pakistani-Americans that it is for the first time in the history of the country, a comprehensive Parliamentary review is under way to establish new principles for this relationship.
The review, Islamabad’s new envoy said, will reflect a multi-partisan parliamentary consensus and the support of the Pakistani people.
Pakistan speaks today as one united voice, including the government and the people, and will have one united policy toward the United States, she said.
This is an opportunity to reset this relationship in a transparent, consistent and predictable manner, the ambassador remarked.
“As Pakistani-Americans, I want you to know that I will rely heavily on you as the extended arm of this embassy and its consulates in getting our message delivered to the American public. Every one of you is our lobbyist,” she added.
“We want to remain friends with the United States but our relationship must be based on mutual interests, respect and shared values,” she said.
“Our friends in the United States must know that our sacrifices in the war on terror far outnumber those of any other international or NATO coalition partner in Afghanistan.”
Yet, the ambassador added, she is not here with a “grievance narrative.”
The ambssador argued that Pakistan-U.S. relations need to move from dependency to partnership, from aid to trade.
“We would prefer to be economic and political partners and not just battlefield allies.”
Regarding democracy getting strengthened in Pakistan, she observed that this is the first time in 30 years that a democratically elected civilian government in Pakistan is nearing completion of its constitutionally mandated term, which would be a remarkable achievement.
Islamabad is committed to pluralism in Pakistan, but faces daunting obstacles, many of which have to do with the tide of extremism roiling the region.
One of Ambassador Rehman’s priorities would be the formation of a Pakistan-American leadership Caucus, which would serve as the main vehicle for strategic interventions to build a new relationship with the United States and to promote the new Pakistan.
She would also be initiating anew cultural outreach program to showcase the “real Pakistan”, one which is quite different from perceptions in the West.
Ambassador Rehman would encourage and motivate the younger generation of Pakistani-Americans to become “tomorrow’s leaders”, who are integrated in political, economic and social cultures of both countries.
Especially. she assured members from all religious communities hailing from Pakistan that the embassy in Washington and its consulates general would always welcome them and that their empowerment was in fact, the Missions empowerment.
Paying homage to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who laid down her life in the fight against terrorism, Ambassador Rehman said that “her iconic figure” always inspires her to serve the nation to the best of her own ability.
She said she was honored that President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had entrusted her with such a challenging task at one of the most critical and sensitive times in the Pakistan-US relationship.
Around 200 representatives of the Pakistani-American community from Washington D.C. and the tri-state area attended the event.