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What goes on behind the gray walls of Foggy Bottom? It's always fun to guess.

The U.S. State Department announced on May 5 that one Shamshad Hussain had been chosen May’s alumni member of the month. He had participated in the department’s Community College Initiative Program, which provides select international students a one-year study opportunity in the United States. The experience apparently equipped him with the skills to “become a leader in promoting volunteerism, education and ecotourism in his native Pakistan.” Now, based on the State Department’s short bio of Hussain, his work would suggest that he is indeed deserving of recognition. He promotes English-language-learning, leads hikes to remove litter in his region, and serves as the executive director of “a Pakistani non-profit that mobilizes marginalized communities to create a peaceful society.”

But May 2011, the month that Hussain is being honored, is already cut out to be the darkest month in U.S.-Pakistani relations in recent memory. Bin Laden’s hiding in plain sight next door to the Pakistani army has a lot to do with it. Is it a coincidence, you might wonder, that a young, enterprising, Western-oriented Pakistani who had a great U.S. experience was singled out by the State Department just a few days later?

A spokesperson from the bureau of the State Department that picks the monthly honoree tells me that each selection is made well in advance, and that winners are chosen from a variety of countries. The spokesperson adds, however, that the designation holds much more weight in the winner’s home land than in the United States. Clearly, Washington has more direct – and powerful – methods of attempting to bridge the chasm opening up with Islamabad. But I wonder if somebody figured that this couldn’t hurt.

-- Richard Solash