The new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan takes charge of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad this week. Since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, this embassy has been a critical regional outpost, where high-profile American lawmakers, military and intelligence officials regularly visit. The diplomatic mission is also where officials work to dispel rumors and defend U.S. policy to an increasingly skeptical Pakistani public.
Cameron Munter is a career foreign service officer who recently served at the U.S. mission in Baghdad and, before that, as U.S. ambassador to Serbia.
His arrival in Pakistan comes as the United States searches for an end to the war in Afghanistan, where Islamabad is considered to be a key player. But after billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Pakistan and regular pledges from officials in both countries to work more closely together, the relationship remains tense.
VOA's Urdu service spoke with the ambassador before he left for Islamabad. Munter says his single biggest challenge is building trust.
"I think there's a deep skepticism among people in Pakistan about what Americans motives are," Munter says, "Why are we there? Why do we give the kind of money we give? Because we give a great deal of money to people in Pakistan - why? We also have to get over skepticism in America - what is happening Pakistan? What is the future of our relationship? If we can have this kind of open and honest talk, I think we can make some progress."
Part of the reason for this trust deficit with Pakistanis is that even senior officials in both countries are skeptical about the motives of their counterparts. U.S. intelligence officials suspect Pakistan's spy agency supports some Afghan Taliban factions. Pakistani authorities worry the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan may lead to archrival India gaining influence on their western border.
Munter arrives during a year in which the Pakistani media carried more aggressive coverage of U.S. involvement in the country, with scandalous stories about irresponsible U.S. security contractors and other allegations of misconduct. The U.S. embassy, under outgoing Ambassador Anne Patterson, took a more active approach in denying the allegations and pressing Pakistani media outlets to correct misleading reporting.
Munter says he looks forward to the give and take with Pakistani journalists. "You have a very vibrant and open media. Perhaps the most open media in the world, and I think you should be proud of that. I'm looking forward to meeting many of these people in the media who I think will always give me a lot of attention, maybe even be tough on me. I welcome that," he said.
Munter presented his credentials to President Asif Ali Zadari on Wednesday. The diplomatic challenges the ambassador faces were highlighted that same day, when suspected U.S. drones killed at least six people in Pakistan's Taliban-dominated northwest.