By HELENE COOPER
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2009: There was a lot of talk at the White House on Wednesday about all of the ways that the United States is trying to help Afghanistan and Pakistan work together to improve the lot of ordinary people.
President Obama spoke of how members of his cabinet, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, would hold meetings with their Afghan and Pakistani counterparts to help them build democratic institutions for governance. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talked about a trade pact between the two countries to increase commerce over the borders. The national security adviser, James L. Jones, talked about judicial reform and the need to stamp out corruption in Afghanistan.
But as Taliban and other insurgents have battled government troops closer and closer to Islamabad, the one thing that no one seemed to be talking about publicly is the one thing that, privately, Obama officials acknowledge is the most important: how to get the Pakistani government and army to move the country’s troops from the east, where they are preoccupied with a war with India that most American officials do not think they will have to fight, to the west, where the Islamist insurgents are taking over one town after another.
Mr. Obama gave only passing reference to the problem, which American officials have been privately pressing their Pakistani counterparts to address all week. Standing next to the visiting heads of state of Afghanistan and Pakistan — Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari — Mr. Obama said simply that “we meet today as three sovereign nations joined by a common goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their ability to operate in either country in the future.”
Then he went on to talk about the drug trade in Afghanistan and the $5.5 billion raised for the region at a donors’ conference in Tokyo.
Part of the reason for the gap between the public and private diplomacy is that administration officials do not want to go on the record explicitly with what they are seeking from the two governments, less they be held to account when neither government comes through with promises made behind closed doors.
The other reason why no one wants to talk too much publicly about what the United States wants Pakistan to do is that there is a real difference in the way that the two countries view the insurgency in the western part of Pakistan. While Americans see this as an existential threat to the Pakistani government, Pakistanis look at things differently.
“This situation has been going on for decades,” one Pakistani official explained on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “These people have always tried to impose Shariah law in the tribal areas.”
Pakistan is more concerned, he said, with getting the American government to stop the unmanned Predator strikes in the western part of the country, which he characterized as far more damaging to the survivability of the Pakistani government than Islamist insurgents in the Swat valley.
His comments came just after a senior Obama administration official said that the administration believes the Pakistani government is finally starting to come around to the American way of thinking about the nature of the Islamist threat to the Pakistani government, further underscoring the disconnect between the two governments.
When such a disconnect exists, those involved in diplomacy just stick to public pronouncements on judicial reform and economic development. NYTIMES