July 21, 2009

Hide and Seek

Both India and Pakistan’s press have tepidly responded to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after she spent three days singing India’s praises. Clinton’s entire trip was a shell game. Everyone has tried to guess what pressure, if any, would she apply to India and Pakistan.

“I think that the United States, as you know, is very supportive of steps that the governments take,” Clinton said during a symbolic press conference at the Taj Palace Hotel, “but we are not in any way involved in it or promoting any particular position. We respect the sovereignty of the decisions that lie in the hands of the Indian Government.”

But respect didn't stop her from responding at one point, “You raised the questions about other terrorist organizations that are focused on India. Clearly, we believe that they have to be rooted out, that they must be defeated and dismantled, and we have made that very clear and we will continue to do so.”

America is rightfully active behind the scenes and has particular positions to promote - and should feel no shame. Political backlash is inevitable, why worry? Clinton didn’t randomly visit Mumbai during a diplomatic flurry between India and Pakistan. Her agenda was to promote India’s super power status and secure defense, trade, and energy agreements.

Among other things, “I am also pleased that Prime Minister Singh told me that sites for two nuclear parks for US companies have been approved by the government.”

Hopefully that wasn’t the reason for Clinton’s silence on Kashmir. The disputed territory, ironically the source of anti-Indian terrorism she spoke so passionately about eliminating, was absent from her remarks. But Clinton's white noise concealed another irregularity hidden within her public relations web.

Already pressuring Pakistan to come clean on 11/26, Clinton stated as American officials often do, “With respect to the location of those who were part of the planning and execution of the attack of 9/11 against our country, we firmly believe that a significant number of accused who were involved in the planning and execution of 9/11 live in the border areas of Pakistan and we have informed Pakistan about them.”

Interesting, because Pakistan disagrees.

“According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan,” Information Minister Rehman Malik told reporters before Clinton arrived in Mumbai, “probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar. They’re [America] getting mid-level people not big fish. And they are counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government.”

The facts are as hidden as bin Laden. Pakistan is a midway of disinformation games and truth is a rare prize.

First, who’s being honest: Clinton, Malik, both, or neither? Unfortunately any choice could be correct. Al-Qaeda’s leadership may move between Pakistan and Afghanistan, affirming all possibilities simultaneously. They could even be in Iran or Sudan. Americans, Pakistanis, and Afghans have a faint chance at guessing correctly.

Clinton’s assertion appears to be a potential “slap in the face” to Pakistan, as the Times of India labeled it, but assuming so would forget the similarly cryptic matrix America and Pakistan have adopted over drones. Both states are well trained at pointing fingers in public and shaking hands in private. There’s a good chance the newest propaganda is a collaboration, theoretically to confuse al-Qaeda. A confounding scenario, but benign.

Options quickly sour though. If America and Pakistan truly disagree on al-Qaeda’s whereabouts then Malik is doing his best to limit American operations and attention on Pakistan’s side of the border. President Obama has chosen to escalate the war in Afghanistan; Pakistan legitimately believes more American troops in Afghanistan equals more chaos for Pakistan, which Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen admitted. President Obama has staked his relationship with Pakistan on his surge.

Pinpointing al-Qaeda’s leadership goes beyond propaganda, politics, and military. Behind the guessing lies a fundamental disagreement between America and Pakistan. America believes it must stay in Afghanistan, possibly for 20 years, until the militancy is defeated, whereas Pakistanis and Afghans believe the militancy exists because America occupies the region.

Neither America nor Pakistan have an answer to this core dispute so they've hidden it by escalating the war before public opinion reverses, hoping to eliminate al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
in the next 18 months by synchronizing surges. President Obama and President Zardari are hiding from their publics and each other. Their strategy may work but if the insurgency doesn’t die as planned, and they usually don’t, one day America and Pakistan will be forced to confront their ideological polarity.

They can hide for now - not in 2011.

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