U.S. Diplomat Gerry Feierstein in Pakistan: 'Prevent Extremism in the First Place'

ABC News recently sat down for a wide-ranging discussion with Gerry Feierstein, the new deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan.

Feierstein first arrived in Pakistan in August 1976, as a junior consular officer in the embassy, stamping visas into Pakistani passports. He married a Pakistani woman, moved back to Washington to sit on the Pakistan desk in the State Department, then returned to Pakistan in 1989 as the consul general in Peshawar, the largest city in the volatile northwest.

He is now on his third tour and brings more experience than most of his fellow U.S. diplomats. He is not afraid to admit that in the past 30 years, the United States has not always followed through on its commitments to Pakistan beyond the immediate strategic goal at hand, whether that was defeating communism -- as it was in the '70s and '80s -- or defeating terrorism, as it has been in the past few years.

"I think that, unfortunately, both here and, to a certain extent in the United States, there's been an overemphasis and an overfocus on the kinetic aspects of the war on terror [bombs and bullets] over these last seven years, and really not focused as much as we should be on the other components of it."

Anti-Americanism is at a peak right now. The Pakistani military and government have increased their rhetoric against the United States. And I recently traveled to the Bajaur tribal area, where anti-Taliban locals say they will shoot at Americans if they cross the border from Afghanistan. And it has never been more violent here. What's going on?

"I don't think that there's any doubt in anybody's mind that, ultimately, success or failure in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] is going to depend on the actions of the government of Pakistan. And we can have influence at the margins, but the fact is that until the government and the people of Pakistan make a decision that this is what they need to do, and that they need to stabilize the situation, they need to defeat extremism and militancy in Pakistan, we're not going to get where we need to go.

"[But we need to] help the government improve their capabilities. ... Until we give the people in that region alternative visions for themselves and for their children, there is always going to be this tilt toward these extremists' messages. That basically we're leaving the field open for extremism and for the success of their propaganda. And really what we need to do is give people an alternative narrative for hope for the future. And that's really much more important in terms of how we're ultimately going to achieve success in that part of the world than anything we're going to do in terms of kinetic activity along the borders or preventing bad guys from coming across into Afghanistan. What we need to do is rather than prevent them from coming across into Afghanistan, what we need to do is prevent them from being drawn into extremism in the first place, and you do that through education and economic growth and other kinds of development activities."

Does that mean military activity is hurting the cause here?

"Is there a role for the kinetic? Absolutely. Because there are people out there right now who are trying, who are planning, who are intending to do bad things, whether it's at the Marriott hotel here, or in Western Europe, or in the United States, and they have to be defeated right now. But over the longer term, you have to do these other aspects."

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