Pakistan is a difficult nation to deal with. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton discovered this on her visit to that country last week. Scepticism and disbelief were the order of the day, on both sides. This is not surprising as the two countries have different goals in and competing visions of South Asia.
“I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get to them if they really wanted to,” she said to a group of Pakistani journalists. “Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.” American exasperation at Pakistan’s unwillingness to chase Al Qaeda and the Taliban is well known. As The New York Times noted, the surprise lay in someone of Clinton’s rank expressing those doubts, and openly at that. Her hosts had a different problem: that of alleged US attempts to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan. Public reactions are, predictably, a few decibels higher in this scale. Simply put, the country has been dragged into a war against terror that most Pakistanis feel is not in their interest.
These disjointed statements of anger reflect something else. Pakistan is perfectly happy to live with the Taliban and would not mind if it took over the reins of the country one day. The US is, of course, aghast at even contemplating such a future for a strategic piece of land. It is true that at the moment the Barack Obama administration is looking at ways to exit from Afghanistan even if that means some sort of power-sharing with a “moderate” Taliban. But that is due to domestic US political compulsions and not because it sees the Taliban as a lesser evil or Al Qaeda as a greater one. Pakistan, of course, would like nothing more than the US agreeing to this distinction.
Pakistan has no use for peace in South Asia. It knows it lost the march to India. Hence its unceasing efforts to drag India into the maelstrom it has created. Clinton’s statements are perhaps the first public acknowledgement that the US understands what is happening. It is, of course, unlikely to translate into anything material for us. For that New Delhi has to develop a more realistic attitude, shorn of sentimentality, towards its Western neighbour.
Clinton’s remarks: exasperation or anger at Pakistani duplicity? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org