It's pretty clear on the newspapers' front pages:
"Stop drone attacks, Army chief of staff asks U.S.," says the Nation.
Or "Arrival of the Jackals: CIA has longstanding presence in Pakistan," says another headline in the same paper.
And yet another: "Pak rebuffs US demand to hit Haqqani group," referring to U.S. requests that Pakistan expand its military campaign in the Northwest Frontier Provinces to include attacks against the Haqqani tribe -- a tribe that straddles the Af-Pak border, cooperates with Al Qaeda and regularly attacks U.S. forces.
The public message is "Washington is meddling in our country. Stop and get out…." But that's the message designed for public consumption. U.S. senior officials here explain that Pakistani leaders are privately both asking for U.S. help and agreeing to American requests on a host of sensitive subjects.
Take, for instance, that Haqqani network story – the alleged rebuffing of U.S. requests to attack them. A senior U.S. official told us today, that "We think we're making progress on their understanding and willingness" to go after the Haqqani network. The official added, "I think we can expect to see more U.S. action against the Haqqani network here." That's even more of a reach than asking the Pakistanis to go after them.
So a) don't necessarily believe what you see in print. And b) don't expect to see a Pakistani official condoning a U.S. strike in public, if one goes forward, and somehow ends up reported in the Pakistan press.
Here's the problem with the Pakistani government's penchant for this rather schizoid public versus private message. That official anti-American message has ended up programming the reaction of many lower-level bureaucrats, not to mention ordinary Pakistanis.
And that, diplomats here tell us, is feeding a rising anti-American trend that is frustrating everything they do, every day, with the knock-on effect that it slows or stops aid programs the Pakistani government itself has asked for. From cars with U.S. diplomatic plates being stopped at the checkpoints that dot every part of this capitol, to visas or visa renewals being rejected, the lower-level Pakistani government bureaucracy is sending the message that it's uncomfortable with any expanded U.S. presence here.
We journalists traveling with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, got a taste of it when we arrived on his plane in Islamabad.
Admiral Mullen and a small team of aides were quickly whisked through the Chaklala Airbase military terminal, and driven off for dinner with the Army chief of staff. We, and the U.S. military aides left behind with us, got to sit in a van for an hour outside the terminal, waiting for them to X-ray every last bag. Then we were taken straight to the U.S. embassy and told to stay on the compound. Still, it's better than last year, when the journalists traveling with the chairman on this trip were forced to sit on the plane for eight hours, never allowed to set foot on Pakistani soil.
Now that's annoying. But Pakistani bureaucrats are actually causing damage in a more serious way. Thus far, Pakistani officials have refused to extend 135 U.S. diplomats' visas — even though those Americans are coming either to provide military assistance that Pakistan's leaders have requested… or to administer the current pool of $500 billion in U.S. aid, with an annual tranche of $1.5 billion in the offing, courtesy of the Kerry-Lugar bill.
Just yesterday, a senior official told us, the accountant for one major program that doles out money directly to the Pakistani government had to leave because his visa wasn't renewed. So that program has just ground to a halt. The senior U.S. official says they're fighting back by explaining themselves – explaining that these people are needed to *help* with these programs.
"But sometimes, you have to go to three or four ministries," to get the point across before you can get those visas approved.
It's also affecting U.S. plans to stabilize the security situation here. The U.S. has offered training assistance to teach the Pakistani military what the U.S. learned in Iraq – that counterinsurgency, coupled with counterterrorism, works. That means you don't just clear an area of the enemy—you stick around to hold the area and build its infrastructure.
So far, the Pakistani military is mostly good at the clearing part, and it's done eight months of clearing in the FATA—the federally administered tribal areas where the Pakistani Taleban holds sway, and it's started on parts of Waziristan. But U.S. officials fear they don't have the training in counterinsurgency to know they need to hold and build.
So the U.S. has been training Pakistani Army trainers, using U.S. Special Forces troops to do it, at the Pakistani army leadership's request. But a senior U.S. official explains it's slow going. They'll get a class set up, for say, 75 U.S. Special Forces trainers to come in to give a course. Then those SF operators will get to the base, and the local commander will tell them, "We don't want you here." Or that commander will make an excuse, say his troops are busy, and cancel the program.
U.S. officials here are trying to combat this in two ways. They can't publicize what they do militarily, but they are looking for a "signature project" that would show all of Pakistan what the might and more importantly, money, of the United States, can provide this country.
And much like a spurned mistress, U.S. officials are trying to convince Pakistan to go public about this relationship. The U.S. embassy has a staff of 500 and needs to expand by another 300 this year to administer the upsurge in aid for this country. If Pakistani officials don't embrace their American partners a bit more openly, or at least do something about turning those visas back on, there simply won't be enough people here to spend that cash.
So stay tuned for this Pakistani press headline: "U.S. promises billions of dollars in aid, and then fails to deliver."
Meanwhile, we're headed to the airport, prepared to have our luggage scanned to oblivion, while we wait, and wait.