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A conversation with Urdu Spokesperson of the US State Department,

Nayyera Haq

Nayyera Haq, Urdu Spokesperson of the US State Department, comes from a family of Punjabi descent with roots in Multan and Lahore. She holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University where she served as a Fellow of Journalism and Law. She has been the student of history in University of Michigan, one of the top universities of the world. In her recent visit to Pakistan, Jahangir’s World Times had an exclusive interview with her.

Q: – Very warm welcome to Pakistan Ms Haq! It’s a privilege to have an interview with the spokesperson of the US State Department who is of Pakistan origin. Kindly tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ans: – Thank you for giving me an opportunity to interact with people of Pakistan through your prestigious magazine.  As you know, I am currently serving as the US State Department’s Urdu spokesperson. At that position, I am a Senior Advisor to the State Department focusing on communicating issues important to South Asia, especially Pakistan. Previously, I have served as a media advisor to Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, Ambassador Holbrooke, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Congressional Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Q: – What are your responsibilities as US State Department’s Urdu spokesperson, and why the need was felt to appoint an Urdu spokesperson at the State Department?

Ans:- No doubt, my roots are in Pakistan but I grew up and completed my studies in the United States. As a spokesperson of the State Department, I have to enhance the relations between American and the Pakistani people. You would be aware of the fact that there is hardly any American voice in Pakistani media. Even if there are some, those are not in Urdu.

At the State Department, we want that relationship with Pakistan should not only be with the government but also with the people of Pakistan so that we can understand each other in a better way and foster our relationship.

Q:  So you are designated to enhance people to people contacts and establish communication channel. What’s the message you have brought for the people of Pakistan?

Ans: – I have brought the message from the people of the United States that America’s relationship with Pakistan is very important. It’s a historical relationship and its continuation is in the interest of both the nations.

Q: – The extremists and terrorists have tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad.  The foreign visitors frankly admit of having a negative perception of Pakistan in their respective countries. How would you improve Pakistan’s image, especially in USA?

Ans: – There are some serious misperceptions on both sides. A lot is stated and aired by Pakistani TV channels against the United States. Contrarily, the American people’s thinking about Pakistan is quite different. The common people in the United States aspire to whatever can be desired by a common human being. They also want progress of their children along with good health and economic development of the family to ensure a brighter future. We can improve our understanding level by forging cooperation between the people of two countries.

Q:- If that be the planning, what areas you have identified for enhancing this mutual cooperation?

Ans: – The United States provides fair amount of humanitarian assistance. The government and the people of United States want to focus on the projects of human interest. Our cooperation is not limited or restricted to War on Terror. We have also been providing assistance in other sectors like energy, education, health, etc. For instance, electricity shortfall is a grave problem in Pakistan. In this very sector, the US has helped Pakistan in adding hundreds of megawatts of electricity in the national grid.

Last year, we provided aid to electrify nearly six hundred thousand (600,000) homes. With active US cooperation, Pakistan will be able to provide electricity to about 2 million more homes. This is just one example. If the two sides work together on the projects, focusing on the well-being of common people in Pakistan, there will, surely, be an enhanced understanding between the two countries.

Q:- Pakistan has suffered a great deal in the ongoing war against terrorism. We have also suffered in economic terms. Our foreign trade has been destroyed. What is the thinking back in Washington?

Ans;- Everyone in the United States acknowledges that no other country has sacrificed so much as Pakistan. Pakistan has been severely affected by terrorism. The menace of terror has hit this entire region. In fact, extremism is increasing in the world despite relentless efforts to curb it. The United States came under such attack in 2001 that gave birth to this crisis. Now, it is in the interest of all of us to join hands against the rising extremism and terrorism across the globe. We have not forgotten prosperity and development of Pakistani people at all. For this purpose, immediate steps like promotion of trade and provision of energy are necessary.

Q;- President Obama has been re-elected. The Secretary of State, Secretary Defense, Director of CIA, etc. are newcomers. What are the policy perspectives of President Obama, in his second term, on Pakistan?

Ans:- The Pak-US relations are spread over many decades. Our philosophy behind the bilateral relations with Pakistan is very clear. We think that these relations are important and must continue. The new Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry, is a great friend of Pakistan. He is the one who started human assistance programme for Pakistan. Hopefully, under his leadership at the State Department, the bilateral relations will be strengthened. I want to tell you from the US perspective that Pakistani people have sacrificed a lot and we acknowledge this fact. Elimination of terrorism is in mutual interest of Pakistan and the United States. I say it again that these relations must be based on the mutual interests. The US government rarely finds an opportunity to communicate its message directly to the people of Pakistan. There should be a transparency in it so that the people can assess themselves whether the United States has done something for them or not.

Q;- A reconciliation process is going on inside Afghanistan. Whether the United States is holding talks with the Taliban?

Ans:- The objective of the United States has always been to encourage an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Afghanistan is the homeland of Afghans and only they have to decide about the fate of their country. As far as the talks between various Afghan groups are concerned, I would just say that the United State always supports reconciliation.

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