The First U.S.-Pakistan Hiccup
Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen visited Pakistan this week for the their first trip to Islamabad since the release of the Obama administration’s Af-Pak strategy. It could have gone better. From The New York Times:
With the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the special envoy to the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, at his side, the [foreign] minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said: “We did talk about drones, and let me be very frank: there is a gap between us.”
He added, “The bottom line is the question of trust.”
In another sign of new strains in the relationship, the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, refused to meet separately with Mr. Holbrooke and General Mullen, who had requested a meeting, according to Pakistani officials and an American official, who sought anonymity because he did not want to further damage relations.
Recall that during last week’s Senate hearing with Gen. David Petraeus and Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, senators expressed worry that Pasha’s intelligence service, known as the ISI, remains a sponsor of the Afghan Taliban. Petraeus replied that he had brought the issue up to Pasha directly.
Also, there’s a sense in some circles that Pakistani officials just denounce the drone strikes as a cause for alarm to cynically pose as populists for domestic consumption, since they back the drone strikes privately. But even if that’s true, it raises the question of why that is. And there, notwithstanding the poll numbers that suggest a suprising amount of support for the strikes among Pakistanis, it’s probably a prudential assumption that Pakistanis don’t like the idea of American missiles raining down, even if the missiles take out the thugs who publicly flog defenseless women. Since the U.S. strategy for Pakistan depends heavily on support for Pakistani counterinsurgency operations, alienating the population is a no-no, and that’s why counterinsurgents like David Kilcullen urge extreme caution in using the drones.