February 21, 2011

U.S. Public Diplomacy on the wrong foot

The United States' public diplomacy in Pakistan has been on the wrong foot for a variety of reasons. Despite investing billions of dollars, the U.S. has so far failed to win over the goodwill of common Pakistanis. As if things were not bad enough, a U.S. citizen shot dead two persons in the Lahore city of Pakistan on January 27. Since that day on, the U.S. is getting a more negative press in a country Washington, D.C. is banking on to win the global war on terror.
U.S. lawmakers have been complaining that the people of Pakistan are ungrateful and that too many taxpayers' money is being wasted to buy hate. Public perception of the U.S. in Pakistan dipped further with the Lahore killings, which has inflamed anti-American feelings in Pakistan, with the fate of Raymond Davis, the accused whose exact identity is yet to be established, in the balance.
Speaking in unison and without changing stance by the diplomatic corps is a key element in public diplomacy. However, the U.S. did the exact opposite in the Davis case, thus losing credibility which is the linchpin of public diplomacy. Shorn of credibility, public diplomacy becomes propaganda which can neither win hearts nor minds.
The U.S. officials initially described Mr. Davis, who claims to have killed the two persons in self-defense against a pair of suspected robbers, as a diplomat of the Lahore consulate, potentially exposing him to prosecution because consulate employees do not have diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. Then the U.S. stumbled into another faux pas: a day later the U.S. hastily announced that Mr. Davis was in fact accredited to main embassy in Islamabad.
Pakistani press has always been anti-U.S. foreign policy, now it got more fuel for stoking anti-Americanism, spoiling any recent gains made by U.S. public diplomacy officers to alter Pakistani publics' perception. When Secretary Hillary Clinton said in New York that "shocking, unjustified anti-Americanism will not resolve Pakistan's problems," a liberal newspaper in Pakistan responded: "The fact is, however, that anti-Americanism in Pakistan is not at all shocking, and much of it is not unjustified. Ms Clinton's remarks came as two Pakistanis were gunned down in broad daylight ... by an American whose work here remains a mystery."
As the U.S. scrambles to rescue Mr. Davis without being prosecuted by a court in Pakistan, Pakistanis see the episode as more evidence of imperialistic arrogance on the part of the U.S. Arrogance, be that imperialistic or not, runs counter to the ideals and objectives of public diplomacy, which rests among other things on goodwill.
The U.S. stance has come across as an arrogant defense of a suspected murderer simply because he is American. This incident is simply one example of the double standards that inflame anti-American sentiment among liberals and the right wing alike. As if the Obama Administration has no coherent public diplomacy, the U.S. President said on February 15: "Pakistan must respect diplomatic immunity" of Mr. Davis. As the saga lingers on, it has been established that Mr. Davis is a CIA, not a diplomat, and a number of U.S. media outlets learned about it but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama Administration.
Steven R. Corman, Asron Hess and Z. S. Justus in their article: Credibility in the Global War on Terrorism: Strategic Principles and Research Agenda say that in order to improve credibility in public diplomacy lower level officers or trusted third-parties should claim ownership of a message. It looked naive when President Obama himself called Mr. Davis to have diplomatic immunity.
This statement could be issued by a lower level officer, especially when Mr. Davis's diplomatic credentials are murky. Since every crisis carries an opportunity too, the U.S. should find that opportunity in the Davis case to win hearts and minds of not only Pakistanis, but across the Muslim world. The U.S. government should pursue Mr. Davis case in a Pakistani court according to law of the land.
There are provisions and precedents in Pakistan's legal code wherein murderer(s) are pardoned if they pay a certain amount of money to the aggrieved party, if it is willing to accept. Once Mr. Davis is taken legally out of Pakistan, he should be tried for the double murder in a U.S. court as per Vienna Convention. If a U.S. court finds him guilty, let him suffer the punishment.
It will send a strong message to the world, especially the Muslims whose hearts and minds the U.S. wants to win, that the U.S. is not imperialistic, it cares about the feelings of others and that it believes in the rule of law.


  1. Interesting post, Faiz! Presumably you've been following the story and Raymond's recent outing as a CIA operative? There's nothing cut-and-dry about this case, but I think it's a great illustration of how some situations have no solutions that will please everybody. I like your idea of trying him in the U.S., but I have a feeling even that option would infuriate the Pakistani people.

  2. You are right, Laura, that if he is tried in the U.S., 'even that would infuriate the Pakistani people.' But the extremists who want to cash on it are not representative of the common, majority id people. The irony is that the extremists are more articulated, media savvy and organized. They have hijacked the public discourse which is picked by the Western media as Pakistan's public opinion.