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Amid dark times, a brighter side of US-Pakistan ties

The largest US cultural and educational exchange program of any US embassy in the world is run from Pakistan. Proponents tout its success.

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Tensions between Pakistan and the United States spiked when Adm. Mike Mullen accused Pakistan's spy agency of aiding insurgents who attacked the US Embassy in Kabul last month.

All eyes, it seemed, were on the back and forth. What would become of the relationship, analysts and headlines asked. But there's a quiet diplomatic drive that has been working since 9/11 to build positive ties between the US and Pakistan: exchange programs.

Every year, more than 2,000 Pakistanis participate in a range of initiatives, from English-language scholarships to fully funded academic or professional-development programs in the US. Taken together, these initiatives – run by the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital – make up the largest cultural and educational exchange program of any US embassy in the world, according to US officials here. And despite misunderstandings and some rough edges, it seems to be working.

For Haider Mirza, the year of high school he spent at Nature Coast Technical High School in Brooksville, Fla., in 2005 taught him that the American foreign policies that are so unpopular with citizens back home are beyond the American public's control.

"The Iraq war was at its peak, and [even Americans] were asking 'Why are we there?' " he says. "Six years on, I still defend America if people make unjustified comments."

That kind of result makes these exchanges worth it, say officials. The Youth Exchange and Study Program that Mr. Mirza participated in was an exchange program authorized by Congress in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to increase understanding between the US and Muslim nations.


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