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Mother-in-law in a snake pit

Events in Islamabad last week mirrored some over-dramatised Indian tele-serials like Saas, Bahu aur Saazish. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew in to the Pakistani capital with a huge team, read out a riot act to her hosts, telling them they haven't delivered on any of their promises and even said that Pakistanis are "feeding snakes."

At a town hall meeting in Islamabad, Clinton was taken aback when she was told by a Pakistani lady, "We all know that the whole of Pakistan is facing the brunt of whatever is happening and trying to cooperate with the US, and somehow the US is like a mother-in-law which is just not satisfied with us."


No sugarcoating: Some sharp words were exchanged between
Hilary Clinton and Hina Khar


Now, if you were familiar with South Asian culture, you would know that it was hardly something complimentary. Remember Ian Botham, the famous cricketer, who way back in 1984 said that Pakistan was a place you sent your mother-in- law to, on an all expense paid trip? But he was English; he knew what he was saying. Clinton with her American social mores didn't see the hidden barb in that one. She replied, "I think that's a great analogy I have never heard before � now that I am a mother-in-law, I totally understand what you're saying and hope to do better privately and publicly."

Clinton was ready to play the doting mother-in-law after she had made her barb a few hours ago. At a joint press conference with the school girly Hina Khar beside her, Clinton said, "You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard."

Behind closed doors when the military and intelligence top brass of the two countries met, there was some 'frank talking'. The Pakistani side held on to its position, that it would not conduct ground operations in North Waziristan. Pakistan thinks the timing is not right and nothing that the Secretary of State and her gargantuan team said could sway General Ashfaq Kayani. The Chief of Army Staff is still smarting from the 'insult of Abbotabad' where Osama bin Laden was taken out stealthily by US forces, without so much as a by your leave.
Clinton spoke quite publicly about US plans for an Afghan reconciliation process: one that meets Afghanistan's own red lines. And those lines have been clearly spelt out by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who boldly said that the Taliban were headquartered in Pakistan and got their training and orders from there.

While Clinton was talking about US priorities in squeezing out the dreaded Haqqanis from the equation, what the Pakistanis want is, squeezing out India from the Afghan reconciliation process. Unfortunately for Pakistan, NATO and the Afghans see no connection between the two. Clinton tried packaging the message in many different ways, but it still didn't cut ice with the military-jehadi complex of Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as its 'strategic depth'.

Meanwhile there are indications that the US has opened up channels of communication with the dreaded Haqqani network in Pakistan, which the US blames for having killed hundreds of American and Afghan soldiers. Just a few weeks back, Clinton had warned Pakistan, "You think that you can keep a wild animal in the backyard and it will only go after your neighbour? We have too many stories where that doesn't turn out like that."

Talking about the versatility of jehadi groups and how they were used by their master (read ISI), she added, "They also have used groups in the past to support their ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir." And now the US is willing to tickle that wild animal's belly. Well good luck to them! And her.

Clinton while answering the question about why she acts like a mother-in-law to Pakistan replied, "Once a mother-in-law always a mother-in-law, but perhaps a mother-in-law can learn new ways also."  Well here is something she can learn: in the subcontinent, a mother-in-law is the boss, while she can be sweet and accommodating, she never lets the equation become one of equals. That is how the cookie crumbles.

Smita Prakash is Editor(News) at Asian News International. Follow her on twitter at @smitaprakash

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