Of all the problems confronting the Obama administration, none is trickier than Pakistan with the challenge for its neighbours dramatised by the November 26 terrorist attack on Mumbai, says a US columnist.
Yet Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "the American official who monitors Pakistan most closely", finds it "really hard to understand Pakistan" as "it's much more opaque than it is transparent", according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
"I've tried ... really hard to understand Pakistan over the last year-plus, and it's much more opaque than it is transparent," Mullen told Ignatius when he asked about Indian suspicions that elements of the Pakistani army were involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Part of that opacity, he cited Pentagon sources as saying, results from the Pakistani military's culture of delegating authority, so that top commanders don't always know about contacts by lower-ranking officers. As one official puts it, "it can sometimes be difficult to figure out who did what to whom".
"In my ideal world," Mullen was quoted as saying, India and Pakistan would work together to fight terrorists and "figure out a way to solve Kashmir". But Kashmir, he cautioned, would be "a pretty big bite in the apple right now".
Mullen has formed a close working relationship with Ashfaq Kiyani, the chief of staff of the Pakistani army, and has travelled seven times to Pakistan over the past year to meet him and Ahmed Shuja Pasha, whom Kiyani installed last year to head the ISI, Ignatius noted on Thursday.
A detailed dossier prepared by the Indian government and distributed to officials in Washington and other capitals, the Post columnist said, "makes chilling reading - page after page of communications intercepts, interrogation records and forensic evidence".
"This was a conspiracy launched from Pakistan," argues the dossier with 10 terrorists trained in Pakistan by a militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, that Indian officials believe was originally created by the ISI.
"Between the lines of the dossier, but not stated explicitly, is the Indian government's belief that some officers of the Pakistani army and the ISI were aware of the Mumbai attacks," Ignatius said.
"Of all the problems confronting the Obama administration, none is trickier than Pakistan," he said noting it was a "nuclear power that has a war in Afghanistan on its western border, a tense confrontation with India on its eastern border and a deadly insurgency at home from Muslim militants who want to topple the pro-American government."
And "at the crux of all three conflicts are the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, known as the ISI".