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The challenge of admitting the obvious (Quetta edition)

The challenge of admitting the obvious (Quetta edition)

By Christian Brose

An important little detail went mostly uncovered from yesterday’s Senate hearing of the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples. You can watch the whole hearing if you like, but what I found interesting was that Maples had this to say in response to questioning by Sen. Carl Levin:

The Quetta shura is operating openly, as you know, in Quetta. I believe it is more in relation to the effect on the Pakistani population, in particular the Pashtun population in Pakistan that causes the Pakistani government to move at a slower pace. And they have not taken action against that Quetta shura.

What’s noteworthy about this is not that the information is new. It’s definitely not. It’s that, as best I can recall, it has never been acknowledged publicly by a senior member of the U.S. government.

Now that the U.S. government has gone on record that the Quetta shura, essentially Mullah Muhammad Omar and the rest of the Taliban’s most senior leadership, is operating openly in Pakistan, it won’t be long before policymakers are asked some pretty tough and uncomfortable questions. Like, what are you doing about the fact that our own government now admits that the Taliban’s nerve center is functioning not in Pakistan’s tribal areas, but in the capital of a major Pakistani province, and not only does the Pakistani government know all about it, it’s not doing anything to address it? Furthermore, what exactly are the billions of dollars that we are giving to the Pakistani government getting us exactly?

The answers to these questions (if good ones exist) are no better than the policy options we have. One response, which Vice President Biden and others have advocated, is making U.S. assistance to Pakistan conditional on the government’s performance. This is a nice idea, and some form of it may work in a "do more to get more" sort of way. But the challenge of imposing conditions on allies is not new; nor is it easily resolved. You’re essentially making a threat: "do more and do better … or else." But there is no "or else" with Pakistan. The threat is empty, and both sides know it.

No matter how poorly the Pakistani government performs, the United States will continue to give it assistance, because the potential downsides of not doing so are worse. And now that we have admitted publicly that things in Pakistan really are as bad as we always knew they were, I don’t envy the member of the Obama administration who will have to respond to the tough questions that will inevitably follow.