COMMENT: America’s ‘tikka diplomacy’ — Cameron Munter
Daily Times, December 22, 2010
As diplomats, we do not just work in Pakistan — we live here too. Whether eating the food, enjoying the music, or appreciating the beautiful landscape and wonderfully rich art and culture, we seek to embrace life here.
Last week, my wife Marilyn and I visited Lahore for the second time since we arrived in Pakistan in October. During our trip, we met provincial government officials, opened a new Apple retail store, and talked to journalists about US-Pakistan relations. In addition, we met women civil society leaders at the Human Rights Commission, where we discussed gender issues in Pakistan, as part of the United Nations’ 16-day campaign against gender-based violence.
And, as your media noted, we also sat down at a desi restaurant to sample some of the traditional food for which Lahore is justly famous. We enjoyed an open-air breakfast of halva-puri, chanay, naan and lassi. Just like the dishes I grew up with in California, Punjabi cuisine is both spicy and delicious. Afterwards, an editorial in a national newspaper described our local meal as ‘Tikka Diplomacy’. I had not thought of it this way, but I think this is a great term. Let me tell you why.
As diplomats, we do not just work in Pakistan — we live here too. Whether eating the food, enjoying the music, or appreciating the beautiful landscape and wonderfully rich art and culture, we seek to embrace life here. Above all, we want to connect to Pakistanis as people, not just as diplomats. For that reason, Marilyn and I are very grateful to those Pakistanis who have opened their homes and hearts to us, especially during Eid, when we felt welcomed not as just guests, but as part of the family.
This kind of personal connection is vitally important. For that reason, we need to expand the direct interaction of Americans with Pakistanis, both here and in the US. I recall the insight of US Senator William Fulbright, who created the prestigious educational exchange programme that bears his name, that we need such personal interactions to “turn nations into people”.
We try to do this by practising ‘tikka diplomacy’ on many different levels. I am proud to say that our cultural and educational programmes in Pakistan are larger than anywhere else in the world. Every year, we sponsor the two-way travel of thousands of Pakistanis and Americans from every sector of society, provide English teaching for thousands of low-income children, and support cultural presentations in both countries. Showing our appreciation of and respect for Pakistan’s remarkable historic patrimony, we support archaeological research, organise conferences bringing American and Pakistani experts together, and fund the restoration of the Hazrat Jalal-ud-Din Surkhposh Bokhari shrine in Uch Sharif and the preservation of six others throughout Pakistan.
Americans are committed to improving the lives of Pakistanis from all walks of life, whether by helping new mothers get better healthcare by upgrading hospitals in Multan, teaching English to underprivileged girls and boys in Kohat and Dera Ismail Khan, or providing job seekers in Sindh with ways to improve their employment opportunities.
And while we will continue to work closely with the government of Pakistan, the core of our diplomacy aims to expand and strengthen the organic, people-to-people connections between our two nations. So we are proud to be ‘tikka diplomats’. I firmly believe that by getting our cultures and peoples to understand each other better, we will ensure that we move forward as true partners.
The writer is US Ambassador to Pakistan