U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  HHS.gov  Secretary Mike Leavitt's Blog

« Previous Entry | | Next Entry »

Pakistan- Blog I

Note: August 19 and 20 I spent in Pakistan and wrote three postings about the experience on my way back from the region. Regrettably, in the interim, terrorists bombed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killing 53 people. I want to acknowledge that tragedy, express my condolences to the Pakistani people, and put my writings into proper time context.

Several weeks ago, I had a visit at HHS from the Health Minister of Pakistan, an impressive woman named Sherry Rehman. She is also the Information Minister, which, by her own assessment, fits her background better than the health portfolio. She was a well respected journalist in Pakistan as a magazine editor. However, the Prime Minister had asked her to wear both hats in the government, and she seems to have developed a real passion on several of the health issues.

She had come to Washington, D.C. to ask for assistance in some specific projects, but our conversation turned a different direction. I asked if she saw evidence that organizations sympathetic to terrorists were using health care as a means of cultivating support among the people, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The FATA is a region on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, where the national government of Pakistan has very little presence and little, if any, control. This is a rugged mountainous region that is simply not controlled by the government. It is the place people believe Osama Bin Laden holds up and, unquestionably, a great deal of terrorist activity is harbored and hatched.

Minister Rehman acknowledged that the combination of the danger and lack of resources means little or no health care is provided by the government. She also indicated there are a number of organizations with terrorist ties who sponsor clinics and other facilities.

I asked the Minister if she thought the people of Pakistan, outside the FATA, had any idea how much help the United States provides now. She made two points in reply. The United States is quite unpopular right now in Pakistan, and people there aren’t aware of the quite-generous assistance we provide in many categories, not just health care.

Neither of her points surprised me.

One exception to that is the help the United States provided after the 2005 earthquake in the Kasmir region. She said that people not only know of the help in that area, but are deeply grateful.

I believe health is a powerful diplomatic tool. I have seen it all over the world. Health is a universal language. When a person or loved one is hurting, whoever helps will be considered a friend. Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah know that. Castro has been using this tactic for a quarter century.

This is a subject to which I have been giving considerable thought. In fact, I am currently writing an article on the subject, based on my experiences over the past four years. I won’t try to frame up my thoughts in this short piece, but I will simply say that I believe health diplomacy should become a significant theme in the fight against terrorism, and that we can do better than we are right now.

Minister Rehman and I had many common thoughts. Our conversation was thought provoking to me. At the conclusion of our discussion, she asked if I would be willing to visit Pakistan. I knew I would be in the region during August and committed to do so.

I did not expect my visit to be at such an intense moment. In the days leading up to my visit to Pakistan, as I monitored the news clips on the political situation, I began to see the name of Minister Rehman quite prominently as a leader of the ruling party’s effort to impeach President Mushariff. As I traveled through Africa, the pressure increased on the President, and on the day I arrived in Islamabad, he resigned.

Needless to say, the two days I was there were exceedingly interesting, both in terms of the understanding of our health diplomacy in the region and the politics of Pakistan. This was my first visit to Pakistan. I don’t pretend to have a sophisticated knowledge of the region, but because I met with many of the major players in the immediate aftermath of the resignation, my observations should at least be written down.

My blog tomorrow will deal with observations after visiting the earthquake zone and the profound improvements in the standing of the United States within that region. The blog following that will recount the experience of watching the government struggle to develop a coalition around a new President.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Pakistan- Blog I :


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Thank you for your support of Pro Life issues. I strongly encourage you to fight against The Freedom of Choice Act. Pro Choice is not Pro Women. Adoption or keeping a child is the only loving and right option for a pregnant women.

Posted by: Kellie Conrad | October 07, 2008 at 12:02 AM

Thank you for your service to our country and for standing up for the rights of ALL people including the unborn. We will be praying that your latest measures are put in place before the end of the term.

Posted by: Kim | November 19, 2008 at 11:23 PM

Keep up the great work you are doing for our Lord and Country. Continue to endeavor to perservere in the mist of the storm, for joy does surely come in the morning.God Bless you and the outgoing administration.

Posted by: gregory Babcock | November 20, 2008 at 10:02 PM

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the moderator has approved them. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be posted as early as possible the next business day. Please review the Comment Policy<$MTTrans phrase=" for more information. "

Note: We post all comments that respect our comment policy in a timely manner. We are currently receiving a large volume of comments. We welcome these comments and are working to post as quickly as possible.

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In