One of the things average Americans most loathe about political leaders is their inability to speak clearly.
"I screwed up" becomes "Mistakes were made." "I caused a problem" becomes "We have a problem." "I am one of the two or three worst presidents in American history" becomes "Ultimately, it'll be up to historians to decide."
Next time you get irritated at an U.S. politician for using responsibility-shirking language, be thankful Pakistan's Interior Ministry Chief Rehman Malik isn't a member of our government.
On Feb. 12, Malik kinda-sorta finally admitted that last autumn's big terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, was planned in Pakistan.
"Some part of the conspiracy has taken place in Pakistan," he said to reporters.
Can you imagine living with this guy?
"Hey, Rehman, did you eat all my chapattis?"
"Some part of the household flatbreads were consumed in Pakistan, dear."
The "conspiracy" to which Malik referred: On Nov. 26, 2008, 10 men armed with guns and explosives attacked 10 civilian targets around India's financial and cultural capital. The attackers reached Mumbai, on India's west coast, via boat from Pakistan. More than 160 people were killed and 300 injured. Among the victims: guests going about their daily biznass at two of the city's nicer hotels, diners hanging out at the popular Leopold Café, and the rabbi at a large Orthodox Jewish community center. The rabbi's wife also was killed. She was six months pregnant.
The attack didn't trigger, as many feared, another round in India and Pakistan's six-decade, on-again-off-again war. But it did have serious military consequences. India massed troops along its border with Pakistan to pressure Pakistan into cracking down on its militants. Pakistan responded by moving troops away from its border with Afghanistan so they could face India's troops.
Taliban rebels in Pakistan and Afghanistan were thus given freer rein to, um, Talibanize. As a result, Taliban attacks in Pakistani and Afghan cities have gone up since Mumbai.
When I first heard the report that a top Pakistani government official had admitted his country was the home base of the attack, my initial reaction was to blurt out a sarcastic fake headline:
"Chief of Pakistan's Ministry for Stating the Completely Obvious tells Duh! magazine something everyone else knew to be true two months ago." Not the most original jokey fake headline, I realize, but I was tired and stuck in traffic at the time. Cut a brother some slack.
When I got home, though, I dug into the matter and noticed that, wishy-washy or not, Malik's statement was a genuinely big deal.
The BBC says it's the first time Pakistan's government has openly admitted its country was the home base for an act of international terrorism. And Malik's statement came at a huge political cost for Pakistan's U.S.-friendly top leadership.
Within Pakistan's government and military, there's a large and powerful constituency that revels in conflict with India. They believe India deserves to be attacked by Pakistani militants because of what they characterize as India's oppressive control of the disputed province of Kashmir.
Kashmir is a majority-Muslim province that straddles the India-Pakistan border. Pakistan believes it belongs to them because the population is mostly Muslim. Indians believe Kashmir belongs to India because Kashmir's leader chose India over Pakistan when the two countries gained their freedom from the Brits in 1947.
To the Pakistanis who want to fight for Kashmir, Malik's statement was a humiliating act of cowardice; the South Asian political equivalent of Roberto Duran's infamous "No más" surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard back in 1980. Pakistan's hardline nationalists believe the current government has caved to unreasonable Indian and American demands that Pakistan stop supporting militants who attack India because of Kashmir.
Vague as it was, Malik's statement is an opportunity. For the sake of telling the truth and fighting terrorism, Pakistan's government exposed itself to political attacks from the country's powerful nationalists. India and the U.S. should act quickly to reward Pakistan's ailing government: with pleasantries, gestures, cash, Best Buy gift cards, whatever; anything that will help the nice people in Pakistan get leverage over the jerks.