“Tea Time with U.S.’ on Power 99 FM: Ambassador David Hale’s first interview in Pakistan

January 5, 2016

Mike: As-salam-alaykum everyone. You’re listening to Tea Time with U.S., exclusively on Power 99 FM.  I’m your host, Mike Harker, and I’m joined by the lovely Nattie.

Nattie: As-salam-alaykum.  Mike, how are you doing this evening?

Mike: I’m doing very well, thank you, Nattie. Glad to have you on board as my co-host for the evening and I hope everyone else is doing well who’s listening tonight.

Just a reminder, tonight is a pre-recorded show, so please, no call-ins.

We’re very excited to start 2016 with a very special guest, American Ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale. Ambassador Hale was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan last August 5th. He arrived in Pakistan on November 18th.

Sir, it’s great to have you with us.

Ambassador Hale: As-salam-alaykum, it’s great to be here. Thank you.

Mike: Ambassador Hale, could you start off the show by telling us a little bit about yourself? What led you to become an American diplomat?

Ambassador Hale: Well, you know, strangely enough I actually decided at a fairly young age that this was the direction I wanted to go in. I grew up in one of my grandparents’ homes, and they were great world travelers before there was that much travel around the globe, and they came back with these wonderful stories and pictures and books about all kinds of interesting places, including Pakistan. And so this just kind of opened up my eyes to the fact that there was a world beyond America, a world I wanted to understand, and a world that mattered to America and to my country, and as a diplomat, I wanted to be part of that story.

Mike: As we’ve heard, you’re quite well traveled. You’ve served as an Ambassador to Jordan and to Lebanon. How do you think you’ll use those experiences here in Pakistan?

Ambassador Hale: I would say actually the experiences I gained are not specific to the Middle East. There are some fundamentals about how a diplomat functions. And to me, one of the most important things to do is to listen, and that’s exactly what I’ve done my first six weeks here. I spent time asking a lot of questions and listening to a lot of really interesting Pakistani people tell me their stories and tell me how the United States can help here in Pakistan.

I also think that a lesson I’ve learned over 30 years of diplomacy is that we’re judged by results. Words are important, but obviously people want to see outcomes and that’s true in my own country. It’s certainly true overseas.

So when the United States says we intend to do something I think it’s very important that I underscore to our leaders back home, it’s very important that we see that through to actual results, and that’s going to be my commitment here in Pakistan is to do our utmost.

Nattie: Sir, now that you have been here for almost two months, what is your recent impression of Pakistan, and what are your highest priorities?

Ambassador Hale: Well, I’ve been so impressed, first of all, by the hospitality and generosity of the Pakistani people which is just incredible. I went on a whirlwind trip after I presented my credentials to the President to Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, and the reception I got there was really overwhelming. I was very touched. All walks of life. People wanted to sit down, they wanted to share a meal, they wanted to talk, they wanted me to understand Pakistan and the perspective here. I really welcome that, and I’m looking forward to more of that.

So I’d say one of my top priorities is to continue that kind of engagement and to build up an understanding.

Now it was great to tour these cities and to see at least a slice of the incredibly diverse culture and history of the civilization that is Pakistan. But I do know that a lot of my time’s going to be spent with some very challenging political and security issues. First and foremost, what we’re trying to do together with Pakistan to encourage the Afghan people to reconcile their differences. And I know this is important for Pakistan’s stability and security. It’s important for our interests as well, and we have a lot of common interests here that we’re working on.

Mike: You mentioned you’ve seen quite a few sights here in Pakistan already, in less than two months. I think I saw a video of you online at the Faisal Mosque. And were you actually reading the Arabic script at the mosque?

Ambassador Hale: Yeah, it was a good test for me to see if my Arabic was still up to standard. So that was good. I also hope I’ll find some time to learn a little bit of Urdu, but my background has been in Arabic up until now.

Mike: Well sir, you said the United States-Pakistan relationship is strong. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been on a positive trajectory since Secretary Kerry revitalized the Strategic Dialogue in 2013. And recently, on December 31st you met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. What came out of that meeting?

Ambassador Hale: Well that’s right, it was my first meeting of my own with the Prime Minister. I was very pleased that he found time to receive me. And he started the conversation with a reference to that meeting with President Obama and the very strong commitment that the two leaders made to a number of common objectives. And I said that certainly my objective was to do everything I could to fulfill, to meet those objectives and those goals, which are very simple ones.

Obviously we talked about security and the political side of things that I touched on. But also how we can cooperate best in education, economic development, promoting the energy sector, as well as security and regional peace. So these are very very important goals for us.

We have a lot of tools to work on them. One of them is something called the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue which addresses a whole range of issues like that to the benefit of both of our countries, and we’re going to have another meeting sometime early in the near year to advance that discussion.

Nattie: Sir, you mentioned education as being one of your priority areas. Can you please expand on that and share some of the programs here in Pakistan?

Ambassador Hale: Yes, Nattie. It’s obviously a truism to say that education is the key to the future, but truisms are true. And you have a huge challenge.

Seventy-five million Pakistanis are under the age of 18. That’s 40 percent of the country. And you’ve done I think a lot of great things in Pakistan to invest in education. I talked to American businessmen before I came to Pakistan who are working here. These are bit multinational firms. And they are very attracted to Pakistan because of the quality of the work force and the educational values. But you know, you can never rest on your laurels. Each new generation, it’s a constant effort. Each new generation needs to be the beneficiaries of the best possible education. And one of the things that we believe in America is that our education system has a lot to bring to the table. It’s got many advantages including the fact that it’s very flexible and it’s very practical. It’s oriented toward creating jobs. So this is an area where I think we have a great commonality of interest, and we are investing a great deal as well in Pakistan in the education sector. Whether it’s building schools, whether it’s helping Pakistan develop their own curriculum using some of our resources, boosting literacy rates, teacher training, providing English language training. Those are all things where we’re deeply, deeply involved in.

Just one example, we have a program called Let Girls Learn which is just getting started, but it will provide 200,000 Pakistani girls with equal, with access to equal education.

One of the objectives in that program and others is to make sure that we’re getting out of the sort of traditional areas of the elite and the urban centers and making sure that these programs benefit Pakistanis from all sectors of society and all walks of life. Because the talent is there, but the access to good education may be more spotty in those areas so that’s an area we want to focus on.

Mike: Sir, another education initiative that we have here is the English Access Micro-Scholarship Program. Could you speak a little bit about that? I had a wonderful opportunity the other day to meet with about 100 Access students from all over the country, and their English language ability was phenomenal.

Ambassador Hale: Yeah, I mean I’ve witnessed this program in other countries as well, and you’re right. I think it’s very beneficial. It doesn’t take a lot of money. And the enthusiasm that the students have for the programs is really impressive.

So again, this is an example where it’s a Pakistani-driven project. It’s Pakistanis who want to do these things. It’s Pakistanis who have come to us, but we are very very happy to be supporting partners in the effort. And it gives us, I think, an opportunity not just to provide the education itself, but to open ideas, open minds to the world beyond their own community.

Mike: It’s really interesting to hear your thoughts on education. As you know, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif recently commented that fighting terrorism is actually linked with what he calls “the need for educational investment in a better future.” Can you talk a bit about your thoughts on security in Pakistan?

Ambassador Hale: I know that Pakistan has faced some real challenges, and I come to Pakistan with a great deal of respect for the way in which the country has dealt with those challenges, the sacrifices that the military and civilians have made.

One of my first visits, I think it was my second day in Pakistan, was to the military museum at the GHQ, and they’ve got a very moving exhibition there about the price of terrorism and the cost that Pakistan has suffered, civilians and military alike. But also the ways in which you’re overcoming those challenges. And the military has to be there. It has to be part of the equation. There have to be, obviously, military responses to security threats. But that’s just the beginning.

There has to be, as General Raheel so rightly pointed out, investments in education; there has to be work at the social level; there has to be an effort to raise economic prosperity so the cultures and societies are as healthy as possible and well integrated. So extremism doesn’t find ways to find root.

Mike: You recently visited the Army Public School in Peshawar. That must have been a very powerful experience for you.

Ambassador Hale: It was. It was of course my first visit to Peshawar and I made a point, it was just two days before the one-year anniversary, of going to the school, and I was very cordially received there.

And I met with a group of students who had survived the attack who went to the United States at our invitation on a program there last summer. And I can’t begin to imagine what the last year has been like for them and all the difficulties that they’ve faced. But I have to tell you, I was so moved by how focused they were on the future. How enthusiastic they were about their experience in the United States. How much they were thinking about their future careers, about becoming a doctor, becoming a lawyer, becoming a military officer, and how the connections we made for them in the United States are going to help them pursue those professional ties.

So it’s just so moving, as I said, to see the way humans sort of are able to overcome these tragedies and I was happy to see that.

Mike: It’s funny you say human. It’s not American, it’s not Pakistani. It’s just a human being and they had a great experience. It happened to be in the United States, and it’s great that they’re able to come back and be cultural ambassadors.

Nattie: Yes, absolutely.

Sir, a more educated Pakistan means more people will be looking for jobs. How do you see America playing a role in Pakistan’s economic growth?

Ambassador Hale: You’re so right, Nattie. I talked about the youth bulge, and part of that of course is that, what I’ve read anyway, is that the labor force here is going to be doubling over the next 25-30 years, so there are a huge number of jobs that Pakistan is going to have to be creating in that period. Although I have great confidence that it can be done. We’ve seen this happen in other societies. So long as there’s a focus on it and a will and that the leadership is really doing its utmost to find strategies to deal with that. And in my initial meetings, again with the Prime Minister, with Finance Minister Dar, with others, I’ve seen that vision. I’ve heard that focus. And we want to be supporting partners to help do what we can anyway to help make that a reality.

America is Pakistan’s largest buyer of Pakistan’s exports. Trade’s topped $5 billion a year. And we’re also a very important source of foreign direct investment in Pakistan. So that’s all very positive. There’s excellent access for Pakistan to the U.S. market.

One of the tools that we have to help with the development is called the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. This was a key part of Prime Minister Sharif’s discussions with President Obama back in Washington in October. And there are a lot of sort of tools that sound boring, but they help build a whole context for this of conferences and trade missions to raise awareness in the United States of the Pakistani market. So a lot of positive activity going on.

I would note that of course in order to attract investors, and there is enthusiasm in the United States to take a serious look at the Pakistani market, it’s very important that everything be done here to make sure the business climate is as attractive as possible. And I think your leaders would be the first to acknowledge that it could stand some improvement, that there are serious efforts underway. You just look at sot of I think objective organizations like the World Bank have taken a look at this, and the ease of doing business for Pakistan is not great. You don’t rank as well as you could in those categories.

So I’m very encouraged by what I’ve heard from Finance Minister Dar and the Prime Minister about ways in which to approach that.

Now I think credit needs to be given where credit’s due. Pakistan has achieved macro-economic stability. That is a huge credit and that’s a starting point. So with that foundation, I think the rest of it will fall into place and that will lead to job creation that you spoke of.

Mike: Economics certainly isn’t a zero sum game though, is it?It’s not just Pakistan-U.S. What are your thoughts on some of the other agreements with other nations?

Ambassador Hale: That’s right. I mean we’re proud that we’re such a leader in terms of the trade relationship with Pakistan. But this is not a zero sum game. We want to see robust trade by Pakistan and economic engagement and investment from other countries across the spectrum. Regionally, China, you name it. I think there’s tremendous potential, there’s a lot of interest, and we want to encourage all of that.

Mike: Great. And so with greater economic development, how do Pakistan’s energy needs come into play in this situation?

Ambassador Hale: Well, our audience knows first-hand what some of the energy challenge are, and this is obviously having a stable supply of power is a key to economic development. If you’re a businessman and you want to build a factory, you need to know that the power’s going to be there when you need it. So we’re very committed using our USAID programs in particular, but other ways as well, to help Pakistan fulfill its objectives for energy generation, distribution and management.

We have, one area is clean energy partnership. We all know from the recent global climate change conference that this is an important area for work, but we’re also impressed that Pakistan has a broad range of energy initiatives across the spectrum to make sure that you have robust power development.

On our part, we’ve committed more than a billion dollars to support the energy sector through investments and reforms. We’re only just beginning, but we’ve already been able to provide power to 16 million different Pakistanis’ homes, and I think that’s just a start. There’s a lot more coming.

Nattie: As we discuss education and economic development and energy, it seems like the United States is providing a lot of support to Pakistan. Much of this is implemented through the U.S. Agency of International Development. Can you please shed some light on that?

Ambassador Hale: Yes, Nattie. USAID, of course, has been in Pakistan for decades now, and I think that they’ve got a strong record of partnership with the Pakistani people and helping to give the Pakistanis the tools they need to reach their goals and their objectives. I think we all agree what the challenges are. I mentioned energy is one key area. Education we’ve also already talked about. And also work in the health sector. Water has been a traditional area of focus. And finding ways, more specifically, to create the jobs that we talked about needing to be created over the next generation.

So those are just the top lines of where we’re cooperating.

We also respond to humanitarian crises and I think my guess is most Pakistanis remember the 2010 floods as a real horrible moment for the country, but one in which the international community rallied around Pakistan to help out. The U.S. government and USAID I think were real leaders in this regard, in helping to get assistance and humanitarian relief to remote parts of the country. Everyone saw that.

Maybe less visible, but I think just as important, are the investments we’re making with Pakistanis day to day in the field in education, in energy, in economic development. They may have less pizazz than humanitarian responses to crises. They may be less noticed. But one of my jobs will be to make sure that we do bring media attention and that people do learn about the ways in which we’re making serious investments all around this country, whether it’s schools, health clinics, jobs, rural development, you name it. We’re there. And I want to make sure people know what we’re doing, so that’s one of my goals during my tenure.

Mike: You’re right. It really is about those small, incremental, day to day changes that we can help provide.

USAID recently launched a mobile book library where they’re bringing thousands of books around the country. So just imagine the power like one book can have on a child’s life or a community.

Ambassador Hale: That’s just one good example. It’s just hard, the challenge is to make sure that Pakistanis who are watching what we’re doing really know about this. And we want to make sure that people understand the value in this partnership, in this relationship. So we’ll work on that, and if people have ideas I’d love to hear them.

Mike: Well everyone, you’re listening to Tea Time with U.S. with our very special guest, American Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale. Stay right with us, we’ll be right back after a quick commercial break.


Mike: As-salam-alaykum everyone. Thanks for staying with us. You’re listening to Tea Time with U.S., exclusively on Power 99 FM.

We’re kicking off 2016 right with our very special guest American Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale. Thanks very much for being with us, sir.

Ambassador Hale: Thank you very much. Great to be here.

Mike: All right, so let’s pick up on our conversation. Earlier you mentioned the Heart of Asia Conference. Now there’s much in the news about restarting the Afghanistan reconciliation talks right now. What role do you see the United States and Pakistan playing in the Afghanistan reconciliation process?

Ambassador Hale: Well, since I got here in November, November 18 actually, this has probably been the single-most dominant theme of my engagement with the Pakistani government and officials, and a very constructive one, I might add. Going back to the senior level discussions that your officials had in the United States. President Obama and others, Secretary Kerry. We see a really constructive approach. We have common interests here, and a common intention.

The goal, of course, is an Afghan led, Afghan owned process, but we all know that Pakistan, the United States, other countries, China, our partners in the Gulf, all have ways in which they can influence positively this outcome.

So Heart of Asia was a real coup. I think the Pakistanis achieved a very important thing in bringing together all of these players in a demonstration of this common commitment.

Now the even harder part starts of actually getting going, and we’re in that sort of preparatory phase now of having discussions behind the scenes on just how we get organized and develop a strategy here to bring it home. But this is a very important goal for us and we’re very pleased with the constructive approach that our Pakistani friends are taking.

Nattie: Turning towards India. Recently Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. How do you see Pakistan and India’s relationship evolving?

Ambassador Hale: Well, it will really be up to India and Pakistan and their leaders to shape, but on our part we’ve seen a series of meetings. At Paris, obviously, and then there’s the meeting of Foreign Secretaries in Bangkok; and the meeting you just mentioned in Lahore. We’ll see where that goes.

But we’re very encouraged by this. I mean dialogue is the right thing. And so we’ll be looking forward with anticipation to what comes next.

Mike: We’re talking a lot about building relationships, we’re talking about building bridges between people. And really building bridges between the United States and the people of Pakistan.

But what people really want to know, I think the best way to build a bridge sometimes is with a visa. Can you talk a bit about the visa process?

Ambassador Hale: I’d be happy to.

Embassies have consular sections and consular sections have two basic functions. One is to issue visas to travelers who have appropriate, legitimate travel intentions, and to a second goal which is to see to the needs of the American citizens when they’re traveling overseas. And it’s certainly in our interest to have as much travel as possible. Our goal is to bring as many Pakistanis to the United States who want to go for legitimate travel.

So we’ve done everything we can to make the process transparent and straightforward. It’s online.  It’s easy, and it’s explained how to go about the application process. And we find that most visas are issued within 10 to 15 business days of the application process. So it’s not a long wait.

In particular, we have a very strong priority in getting Pakistani students to the United States for education. That’s even more streamlined, so we work very hard to make sure students all over the world sometimes, procrastinate and wait before they get their papers together to make sure that the students get to the States on time to begin their education.

Now I did say the word legitimate travel. The goal in our interviewing process and the application procs is so make sure that not only do Pakistanis travel to the United States, but that they travel back, of course, to Pakistan when they’re done with their business or their holiday there. And so that’s the goal, to make sure that there’s no one planning to stay in our country in violation of the immigration rules.

Nattie: So you’ve talked about the work that goes on in the American Embassy and consulates’ visa sections. Can you give our listeners an idea of what it’s really like working in the U.S. Embassy?

Ambassador Hale: Well, the Ambassador may be the last person to ask that question of [laughs]. There’s lot of staff who also work.

It’s obviously 30 years of my life have been working behind those high walls and sadly, those walls are there for security reasons all around the world. But they shouldn’t create a sense of mystery.

The truth is that at every embassy, certainly the one here in Islamabad, we have inside those walls a very strong family of Pakistanis and Americans who are working together to the benefit of Pakistan and the relationship between America and Pakistan.

I talked about a range of activities, you know USAID for example. To implement those energy programs and others we need engineers. These are Pakistanis with engineering background, PhDs. We need Pakistanis who understand water projects. Pakistanis who can do the auditing and the financial work to make sure we’re implementing these programs well. In education the same thing. We have Pakistani and American colleagues working side by side to make sure our education programs are well targeted and well-conceived. And that’s just USAID.

You look at public diplomacy. There too, Pakistanis and Americans sitting side by side to make sure that we’re engaged fully with Pakistani society. That we are reaching as far as we can to all segments and really understanding each other as fully as possible.

Another very important objective of any embassy is to take that understanding back to Washington, to make sure that Washington has a good appreciation of what’s happening in this country. So we don’t inadvertently make mistakes. We want to do things that help this country and help its government achieve the goals that we share in common. So we need great staff to accomplish that, and that’s what we have here in Pakistan. I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen.

Mike: Well, sir, we’ve certainly covered a lot of ground on tonight’s show. But as Tea Time with U.S. comes to a close do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our audience?

Ambassador Hale: Well, I’ve only been here six weeks, but ’m absolutely thrilled. It’s a diverse fascinating country. There’s a lot of energy here. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of positivity about what we can work on together. It’s a great honor for me to represent President Obama in a country as important as Pakistan. I‘ve spent 30 years in the Muslim world, and so I bring with that of course great respect and appreciation for the faith of Islam and for Muslim communities. And I want to do my utmost to build understanding between our two countries.

Mike: Sir, it has been a sincere pleasure to have you on our show. Thank you very much.

Ambassador Hale: Thank you. It’s great to be here, Mike.

Nattie: Thank you.

Ambassador Hale: Thanks, Nattie.

Mike: You’ve been listening to Team Time with U.S. on Power 99 FM. Thanks again to Ambassador Hale for joining us and helping us get a great start to 2016.