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Interview Richard G. Olson

Interview Richard G. Olson

Whither US-Pakistan Relations?

If I were running the policy right now, I would say that there should be some high level of engagement between the two countries. The dialogue should be private and discreet.

A distinguished career diplomat, Ambassador Richard Olson, retired from the US Foreign Service in November 2016 with the rank of Career Minister. He is currently an independent consultant. Since he was the US ambassador to Pakistan from 2012 to 2015 and has also worked as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the US State Department from 2015 to 2016, Ambassador Olson knows the inner workings of complex Pakistan-United States relations. In a recent interview with Radio Free Europe, Ambassador Olson weighed in on whether there is hope for salvaging the troubled relations between the two countries. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Question: What forced Washington to suspend military assistance to anti-terror war ally Pakistan? What steps are next?

Answer: This is an issue which has been developing for a very long time, probably for the last 17 years that the United States has been involved in Afghanistan. When I was the US ambassador to Pakistan, it was the main topic of my discussion with Pakistan. So, there should not really be any surprise this year.

The United States has always found Pakistan’s support, specifically the establishment’s support, for the Taliban and Haqqanis, to be completely inconsistent with its stated position of the alliance with the United States. It is difficult for taxpayers and Congress to understand why the assistance should continue when Pakistan is supporting people who are killing our soldiers and our allies.

The Trump administration has taken a tougher line, especially in public. It is not, frankly, all that different than the line taken in the latter stages of the Obama administration. It is really up to Pakistan to choose whether it wants a relationship with the United States over a relationship with the Taliban and the Haqqanis.

Question: What will happen if Pakistan does not comply?

Answer: We have a lot of history in the relationship, and I don’t want to overstate. Obviously, at the level of people to people, there is a great deal of sympathy and understanding [from] Pakistan as a nation and people who come here, especially young people for colleges and universities and people who come here from Pakistan as immigrants. There is a large Pakistani-American diaspora; many of them are professionals, doctors and very successful in this country.

But at the level of policy, we have a problem. Pakistan has, frankly, relatively few defenders in the Washington policy environment. It is hard to explain why Pakistan would have chosen the Taliban and the Haqqanis over friendship with the United States. And the fact that this has not always been carried out in the most transparent way – the support of the Haqqanis and the Taliban has been carried out by the establishment in a secretive way — leads to the charge of duplicity. Many Washington policymakers feel there is an element of deceitfulness as the president tweeted at the beginning of the year.

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