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April 27, 2009
Whispered or shouted, Pakistan is cause for concern

“I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner examines the blunt U.S. reaction after the Taliban briefly gained control of Pakistan’s Buner district last week — just 60 miles from Islamabad.

It would be hard to conceive of two styles of governance that offer a bigger contrast –- the Obama administration versus the Bush administration.

The matter at hand is the case of Pakistan, where a weak civilian government and a confounding military establishment are facing an intensified threat from the Taliban.

This is the question raised by a Washington Post editorial on Sunday, April 26: “What does the Obama administration hope to accomplish by publicly warning of a Pakistani collapse?

The editorial goes on to review the discomfiting report last week that the Taliban had seized Pakistani territory uneasily close to Islamabad. Along with that report, U.S. officials had dire warnings.

The Post notes this comment last week from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.”

Interestingly, the Post editorial criticizes Clinton and other administration officials for stating the obvious:

“In its own way, the Obama administration offered as much reason for panic about the deteriorating situation in that nuclear-armed Muslim country,” the editorial declares.

And therein lies the contrast between two presidents. Do public declarations of concern serve us better than private warnings? By comparison, the editorial notes, “in the last months of the Bush administration, private cajoling of President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani to fight the Taliban has done little good. It’s not yet clear whether the public campaign will have more effect.”

Which is better? Either way the assessment remains the same. One of my long-time U.S. intelligence sources offered this read-out:

“The situation is so bad regarding expanding Taliban and militant power, with their control in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas close to the Afghan border] and NWFP [Northwest Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan, Punjab and the Islamabad capital district] mounting and areas of control spreading southward that many Pakistani insiders are talking about the gradual ‘Talibanization’ of the country.”

The intelligence source said that relations between Zardari and the Pakistani military are at a “low-ebb.”Among other points, the source reports that the Pakistani military would favor a coup against Zardari only as a last resort, “were the situation internally to worsen dramatically.”

There are no silver linings on this story. The Obama administration has inherited a diplomatic morass in Pakistan -– and the resolution is unclear, shouted out loud or whispered low.

– Peter Eisner 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user SEIU International under a Creative Commons license.

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Peter Eisner is an editorial consultant with Worldfocus and a 30-year veteran of international news. He has been an editor and foreign correspondent at The Washington Post, Newsday and The Associated Press. He co-authored “The Italian Letter,” which details fraudulent intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. He was founder and president of Newscom, an international online news service, and speaks Spanish and Portuguese.

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