Rarely are transcripts of official events eye-opening, but this account of Defense Secretary Gates’ Q&A at the Pakistani National Defense University yesterday is amazing. It’s hard to tell, because I wasn’t there, but the vitriol expressed to Gates appears to knock him back on his heels. For instance:
Q (Inaudible). You gave a statement with regard to some future terrorist threat or action that may take place over there. And you said that India may run out patience. The Pakistan army’s resolve against terrorism — (inaudible).
I would remind you have predisposed Pakistan as perhaps siding with the terrorists. So could you please tell us with regard to fighting against terrorism are you with us or against us? Thank you. (Applause.)
Gates responds, “We’re very much with you.” Because we are! We just gave the Pakistani government $1.5 billion in aid, every year for the next five years. And still, the next questioner says, “this relationship between military and military has not fared well in the past.” But it’s obviously way more than just mil-mil! The Obama administration is doing absolutely everything it can — well, almost everything, as we’ll see in a second — to convince the Pakistanis we’re on their side. But they don’t buy it. The depth of antipathy is– well, will I sound like a naive asshole if I say “startling”?
Sir, there’s a large section of the Pakistani population who feel that the present mess that Pakistan finds itself today in, in large part, is due to the United States. The war on our Western borders in which not only the army but the whole country is embroiled in, and there’s no end in sight, initially was not our war but now it has become our war. So what is your message to these people, sir?
The answer Gates gives boils down to: It would be your war eventually. That… is true, I would argue. But it’s not going to convince anyone who simply doesn’t see it that way.
And then there’s this, which is lurking in the background of the whole conversation, as the first question indicates:
During the run to the elections, Mr. Obama — in other statements, he mentioned that there was an understanding now that — (inaudible) — problem, India and Pakistan, particularly, their — (inaudible) — connection with extremism and also from — (inaudible) — Afghanistan.
Now after — (off mike) — same old thing. The United States is refusing to mediate between India and Pakistan since the war — (inaudible). And India was even taken out of — (off mike). My question with this — (inaudible) — first, is the United States administration unable to see how hollow is the Indian argument that the India-Pakistan problem can be resolved only through dialogue — (inaudible). Secondly, is the U.S. policy of India subject — (inaudible). And third is is the U.S. unable to see that its policy of propping up India — (inaudible) — especially with reference to Afghanistan because if there’s one sure guaranteed way of ensuring the eastern region of Afghanistan — (off mike)?
Simple and plain: the Obama administration has to do something about Pakistan’s legitimate security fears emanating from India. As Gates points out, it’s completely absurd to argue that the U.S. has had a policy of “propping up” formerly-Soviet-allied India, but it doesn’t matter at this point (yes, yes, you guys who are big on “narrative”; score one for you). The Pakistanis believe that the lack of U.S. hectoring directed at India is part of a concerted policy of supporting India at Pakistan’s expense. Consequently, pushing the Pakistani military into Waziristan, to fight fellow Pakistanis, is easily misconstrued as weakening Pakistan for India’s sake.
There were good arguments for not stuffing the India relationship into Richard Holbrooke’s pillbox of headaches. India is too big a relationship to reduce to just a security issue. And for much of last year, the U.S. was waiting for India to elect a new government. But if we mean what we say about security, diplomacy, politics and development being interrelated and mutually supportive/corrosive, then it’s time to broker a real India-Pakistan peace process. Unless we want Gates’ next appearance at the Islamabad NDU to go even worse.
Update: As Shekissesfrogs points out in the comments, DOD appears to have yanked the transcript from its website. All I can tell you is that I have the actual transcript in my email…