Pakistani Journalist Comments On U.S. Operation

Steve Inskeep speaks with Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the Friday Times in Pakistan, for analysis on the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed there by U.S.-led forces.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Pakistan, where we're joined on the line by a leading journalist. Najam Sethi is editor-in-chief of the Friday Times in that country. Welcome back to the program, sir.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor-in-Chief, Friday Times): Hi.

INSKEEP: And I'm glad to get a Pakistani voice into this discussion, and a very well-respected and well-connected voice, as well. Because the question that's being asked here in the United States, as you know very well, is how could Osama bin Laden be hiding in this compound very near a Pakistani military facility, in a cantonment area? And how could somebody in the Pakistani government or military not know? Is that a fair question to ask?

Mr. SETHI: That's an absolutely fair question to ask. You might also ask of a supplementary question.

INSKEEP: Which is?

Mr. SETHI: How is it possible for four American helicopters to fly from an air base in Pakistan, come all the way to carry out this operation without the knowledge or approval, indeed approval, of the Pakistani intelligence services?

INSKEEP: Oh, now that's interesting because U.S. officials have said, a senior official has said that Pakistan did not have advance knowledge of this. But you are basically suggesting with your question, look, the Pakistanis needed to know because otherwise air defenses would have been activated. There would have been a problem.

Mr. SETHI: There would have been a problem. The Pakistanis have given this air base facility to the United States, which is about 200 miles from Islamabad, and American helicopters to fly from there.

The other question is that the statement given by the Pakistani Foreign Office is very interesting - and you want to examine that - that says two things. First, it recounts the murders that Osama bin Laden has committed and the number of people, Pakistanis in Pakistan have died at the hands of al-Qaida-inspired terrorism, and welcomes in a sense what has happened, indirectly. At the same time, it says very clearly that this was an American operation, lending support to the United States president's statement that the U.S. forces carried this out.

So if you add the two things together, it looks as though the Pakistanis were in the loop but they feared an enormous domestic backlash and they feared that their security forces will not be able to contain it. Hence, a little bit of a hands-off distance.

INSKEEP: They want plausible deniability, as is sometimes said.

Well, since you're saying that the Pakistani government is fearing a backlash, very, very briefly, in a few seconds, is there any sign of a backlash yet today? It's well into the day in Pakistan, are people criticizing this move?

Mr. SETHI: No, right now there is no backlash because no one can openly come out and say that this man was a good man or was a hero. That no one can say, even though they may have, you know, a sneaky heroic feelings about him. But no one can openly say that - number one.

And number two, we have to wait and see what the attitude of the United States is towards the Pakistani military now. If in the next few days you're going to see backhanded compliments or reaffirmation of continuing aid to Pakistan, and so on and so forth, then we are likely to be proven right...

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mr. SETHI: ...in thinking that there was tacit and implicit understanding and agreement in this operation.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much, Najam Sethi on NPR News.

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