Games People Play

06Oct09

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I have been asking myself a question lately that I want share with you: What is the American game anyway?

I’ll tell you why I’ve been going over and over this in my head. Last week I met a wonderful woman who has been sent to Pakistan as a cultural envoy of the United States. Her name is Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren and she is a director, dance choreographer, performer, and scholar. I found the soft-spoken Dr Kochhar-Lindgren to be sensitive to the issues of the Pakistanis she had met during her visit.

I asked her what she would take back with her from this visit. Her thoughtful response was that more than anything else, there is an urgent need for young Pakistanis to be understood by the American mainstream media and not be represented as an amorphous mass of facial hair, ball bearings, and crocheted prayer hats (my description not hers).

 

I thought this was very exciting indeed – someone who finally gets it.

At around the same time, I met my doctor, a gynecologist-obstetrician, who told me she had just returned from a very exciting trip to the United States. She told me that the administration of US President Barack Obama appears to have a real interest in pushing for funds in the health sector, especially women’s health. Whereas it is generally the Indians and the Bangladeshis that take much of the development funds, the Americans seem to want to invest in Pakistan’s health sector. Again, I was impressed and frankly, reassured.

But then here’s what I find confounding: the US pursuit of the ‘Quetta Shura.’ Well, if the Pakistanis were to pursue the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, that would be a good idea. If the Pakistani military and government do that with a little push and nudge from the Americans, that’s not too bad either. But why would the Americans want to threaten to bomb Quetta? And it’s looking pretty likely that it’s on the cards.

It first came up in a Christina Lamb piece where she claimed that senior Pakistani officials in New York revealed that the US had asked to extend the drone attacks into Quetta and the province of Balochistan. She wrote: ‘It wasn’t so much a threat as an understanding that if you don’t do anything, we’ll take matters into our own hands,’ said one.

On September 29, The Washington Post quoted US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson as saying that Quetta was high on Washington’s list of terrorist bases in the region. ‘In the past, we focused on Al Qaeda because they were a threat to us. The Quetta Shura mattered less to us because we had no troops in the region,’ she said. ‘Now our troops are there on the other side of the border, and the Quetta Shura is high on Washington’s list.’

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If there was any ambiguity there, Gerald Feierstein, U.S. deputy ambassador to Pakistan, followed that up a couple of days later with the claim that the Al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden, and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, are in Quetta.

ISPR’s General Athar Abbas came back with a quick response that of the 10 people identified by US and Afghan officials as members of the Quetta Shura, six had been killed, two were in Afghanistan, and the remaining two were insignificant.

But no matter what they say, the Pakistani government, military, and intelligence agencies combined can’t seem to shake off the Quetta Shura reports from the media.

And that brings me back to my original question: what is the American game? I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories of the Balkanisation of Pakistan or of attempts to jeopardise the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal… At the moment, it all appears to be quite ambiguous and hopefully, it’ll just be paranoia.

But what I do know is that it doesn’t strike me as being the smartest move – to speak the lingo. That too after the whole world, including the US, has acknowledged that drone strikes are hugely unpopular and breed the hatred and anti-Americanism that provokes that clichéd, whining, and ineffectual question: Why do they hate us?

The plan to move into Quetta would be another reason why.

This post was first published on 6th October 2009 by dawn.com

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