By Ian Stewart, The Daily Iowan
Fewer than 24 hours after he got off a plane from Islamabad, Pakistan, Ben Rogers was sitting on his couch in Cedar Rapids, watching the news of Osama bin Laden’s death unfold.
Rogers’ April trip to Pakistan, as part of an unofficial U.S. State Department-sponsored delegation, was at the heart of his discussion of American-Pakistani relations during a speech to the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council Wednesday.
Tensions between the two countries have been especially high in recent months — Pakistanis dislike strikes by U.S. drones in the country, and the assassination of Bin Laden in a secret American raid ratcheted up anger.
“The U.S. government is concerned that Pakistan is not being as cooperative as it could be in terms of attacking militant groups that are either planning attacks against the or have ties to the Taliban,” Brian Lai, a University of Iowa political-science associate professor, wrote in an e-mail. “Also, there is substantial anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.”
Rogers’ firsthand account, however, tempers that generalization.
“There is anger towards our policy,” he said addressing the crowd of around 80 gathered in the basement of the Congregational Church, 30 N. Clinton St, “but not our people.”
In fact, a central purpose of the trip was to engage on a more personal level with Pakistanis, outside of what Rogers described as the “bubble” of high-level diplomacy.
“We aren’t restricted, we’re able to have some honest, real conversations.” Rogers said.
Speaking with locals, he said two issues — drone attacks and a CIA operative — were of special concern.
In January, Raymond Davis, a contractor employed by the CIA, was apprehended by Pakistani authorities after he reportedly killed two men he said were trying to attack him. Rogers said U.S. response to the incident has been seen by Pakistanis as an example of “American arrogance.” But drone attacks, like America’s unilateral elimination of bin Laden, have some reconsidering America’s deference to Pakistan’s sovereignty.
“The continued use of drone attacks leads the Pakistani government to question whether the U.S. respects it as an ally and whether it is in a partnership with, or being led and used, by the U.S.,” Lai wrote.
“I’m concerned about the drone attacks,” said Jerry Loewenberg, a former dean at the University of Iowa and professor emeritus of political science who attended the event at the church. “They really are a violation of sovereignty.”
Rogers, however, was quick to defend the attacks.
“I can understand why the Pakistanis were angry about the drone attacks,” he said, “But they have been very effective against the Qahtani network, which was a Qaeda network.”
Rogers said Pakistan’s two-faced relationship with the U.S. is a major problem
“They will in secret coordinate with the United States and then publicly assail the U.S,” Rogers said.
Lai said the long-term outlook for relations are good, but in the near future, U.S. activity in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan will hurt cooperation. President Obama’s recent announcement to begin pulling U.S. troops from Pakistan’s neighbor might have serious repercussions, Rogers said.
“It has the potential to become the next Afghanistan … that has been the reason we have to remain within a relationship is to try to dismantle those [terrorist] organizations,” Rogers said. “Once we remove our troops, they’ll have a free pass into Pakistan.”