GEO TV is reporting that President Obama expressed opposition to expanding CIA and JSOC drones into Quetta, Pakistan during an advisory committee meeting. The report is still in an embryonic stage, but Geo News correspondent Sami Ibrahim has been active in Washington covering the Balochistan front.
Our initial reaction is why, after a month of rumors that distracted Pakistanis from his core plan and kept them leery of America’s intentions, does he now express disagreement? This paradox creates a matrix of possibilities.
There is the chance that America and Pakistan's battle over Quetta and the so called “Quetta Shura” is actually a show designed to display public resistance. The same model was used to sell the initial phase of drone operations, which were at first denied by the government until the Pakistani people acclimated accordingly.
US officials may be thinking the same pattern will develop in Quetta. Or maybe America isn’t even serious about its plan, using it only as leverage against Pakistan. Maybe Quetta is a bluff.
Obama told reporters on December 1st, "The most important thing we can do in Pakistan is to change their strategic orientation.”
"If we don't do this - at least have a real discussion of it - Pakistan might not think we are serious," said a senior US official involved in the planning. "What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the US; we can't allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore."
But an equal chance exists that America craves to go after Taliban Mullah Omar and his circle, thought to be hiding by US intelligence in Quetta. Considering the pent up frustration at Taliban leaders hiding outside the designated battlefield, and in Pakistan no less, America has every reason to militarily infiltrate Quetta.
"We have applied enormous pressure," the senior U.S. official said, meaning National Security Adviser James Jones, Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, General McChrystal, Admiral Mullen, and Leon Panetta, CIA director.
CENTCOM commander David Petraeus just landed in Islamabad.
Unfortunately for all of them, Obama cites one reason why taking Pakistan’s advice on Balochistan would be a good idea - excessive civilian casualties. He can add a few more: starting a revolt, further antagonizing Pakistanis at large, and straining relations with Islamabad.
"We are not a banana republic," said a senior Pakistani official involved in discussions with the Obama administration. If the United States follows through, the official said, "this might be the end of the road."
And didn't Bruce Riedel say Mullah Omar already moved to Karachi?
The most innocent possibility, that Obama wisely reversed his decision after Pakistan’s reaction, is no less disturbing than the most sinister. He should have instantly known that Islamabad would resist, either out of sympathy for Mullah Omar, the desire to use him, or because the political cost in Balochistan and the rest of the country is too high.
And did he just realize how risky drone strikes would be in Quetta, a dense city? Why Quetta instead of Karachi? Did he just realize these rumors are hurting him after two long months? If so he’s far less astute than billed. Since the plan was secret, it’s likelier that Obama knew all along the controversy he was wading into.
That leaves two alternate choices.
The first is direct - he’s lying. As Commander-in-chief, it's reasonable to assume he initiated or signed off on expanding the CIA. Either way, for the idea to push this far through his opposition seems implausible. Thus his public rejection is calculated to transfer the heat from him to unknown faces in the Pentagon.
But Pakistanis aren’t easily fooled by American propaganda and Obama’s surface movements are unlikely to conceal his true intentions. There are no points to score here.
A second possibility moves directly to the conspiracy file. Is there a chance those beneath him cooked up the Quetta plan without his knowledge and got it running before he could stop it? Is he being peer-pressured by the aforementioned group lobbying in Pakistan? Was he briefly out of control and is he trying to stop the buck before it gets spent by someone else?
So unlikely, yet nothing else makes sense either. Is Mr. Ibrahim's report even real? Confusion, mystery, chaos - the only truth is that nobody wants Americans or Pakistanis to know anything.
That is the Matrix.