Friday, October 21, 2011

Islamabad, Oct 20-21


This trip feels like it has gone on for a loooong time...and it isn't over yet. Something about the quick pace, multiple stops and lack of sleep all combines to make it feel like a real trek. It has been really interesting but I am tired!

We arrived in Islamabad from Afghanistan last night. Direct to the Embassy, where they put us up in their version of the container-dorm room "hooches". Not bad. We were back in the regular filing center, in the "community center" next to the embassy pool, where the staff had actually provided a refrigerator full of beer (gratis) which seemed above and beyond the call of duty.

And then we waited. And waited. Clinton, the new CIA director Petraeus and the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs were all in town (an "interagency" intervention with the Pakistanis) and were all going to a dinner with their Pakistani opposite numbers. We were going to get a read-out of the meeting when it finished..which wasn't until 2 a.m. Not what we were looking for, but I can't imagine what it was like for Clinton and the other officials who actually had to think while they were waiting. We were just waiting. Finally Toria Nuland, the State Dept spokesperson, came out and told us that the meeting lasted four hours -- and absolutely nothing else. We could have gone to bed at 9. But that's the way these things work..so back to the hooches, go to bed, try to sleep..and four hours later it is time to get up.

There's something about the cumulative sleep deprivation that makes it fun, in a gruesome sort of way. You have an excuse to be cranky, to sit there with your eyes closed...and everybody else is doing the same thing. The normal rules don't apply.

Except to Clinton, who has to keep on with her packed schedule of meetings. Woke up, had a bowl of cheerios in the little canteen, and then back in the vans to go to the Foreign Ministry where Clinton had a presser with the new, 34-year old Pakistani foreign minister. Islamabad is still such a weird place..it feels suburban and threatening at the same time. There are checkpoints everywhere. And not many people smile (at least when you are riding in a U.S. embassy van).

The presser was ok..Clinton said her piece about how it is crucial that the Pakistanis go after militants, and the Pakistani said they totally agreed but it will take time to "operationalize" the agreement. Huh? Doesn't sound like the message got thru.

There was other stuff..Clinton holding a "town hall" meeting with various Pakistanis at the Serena Hotel in a ballroom that smelled very strongly of lighter fluid (accelerant? you think of that kind of thing in Pakistan)...another media "round table" with Clinton where she revealed that U.S. had had a preliminary meeting with the Haqqani network militants...back to the embassy, she did the "meet and greet"...you get the picture. Tired. In fact I forgot to take a picture until the last minute at the embassy, where I took the above pic of a signpost. Shows you how big the place is.

We are now in Tajikistan, home of the tallest flagpole in the world. More tomorrow.