Reconsidering America's Relationship With Pakistan
MICHEL MARTIN, host: We have more on the history-making events of earlier this week: the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks and others. President Obama is scheduled to go to New York City tomorrow to visit Ground Zero. But even while bin Laden's death provides some degree of closure to the 9/11 attacks, the raid on bin Laden's compound opens up other serious questions, mainly about the nature of U.S. relations with Pakistan.
We wanted to talk more about this with someone who knows both countries well, Shuja Nawaz. He is the author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within." He's also the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States. He's a regular contributor to this program and he's with us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. Shuja Nawaz, thank you so much for joining us once again.
SHUJA NAWAZ: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Now, of course we now know that Osama bin Laden was living in a compound in the garrison town 35 miles from the capital Islamabad right by what is Pakistan's West Point, essentially. And so of course the obvious question that has to be raised is how could Pakistani military sources, intelligence sources not know he was within the country?
NAWAZ: I think that's a valid question and we are waiting for the answers from Pakistan. Unfortunately, I don't think we should hold our breath because past inquiries of similar events inside Pakistan haven't yielded fruit. They tend to be brushed under the carpet.
This is, I see, as a kind of defining moment in the U.S./Pakistan relationship. It's an opportunity for the two countries to come together, to be honest with each other and to try and restore the trust which is very necessary for them to be partners in an effort against terrorism as well as in the effort to end the war in Afghanistan.
MARTIN: I wanted to ask you to interpret two statements for us. On CNN, former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, was asked if he was surprised that bin Laden was living in Pakistan so close to a military base. This is what he had to say.
PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: It is astonishing. It's really surprising. But I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever, knowing our intelligence and army, that Pakistan army and Pakistan intelligence are operating with all their heart and soul against al-Qaida and Taliban.
MARTIN: Now, this is the current president, Asif Ali Zardari. He wrote an op-ed, which I thought rather unusually in The Washington Post, and he said that some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet, that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaida as any nation.
But that's not the same as saying, you know, we had no idea. So can you just interpret what they're saying for us?
NAWAZ: Well, certainly. President Musharraf was in power for the entire period after 9/11 and if anybody should have known about where things were and what the intelligence was doing or not doing, he should know. So, clearly, if they did not know where Osama bin Laden and his henchmen were hiding inside Pakistan, then it was a massive intelligence failure.
And I'm not sure that there is yet a single voice that speaks for Pakistan, because there is the civilian voice and the military voice. The prime minister, who should've called an immediate meeting, he took off the next day on a trip to France. He's not there. Meanwhile, the army chief called his core commanders and they're having a strategy session in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistan army.
So there is a two-track policymaking mechanism inside Pakistan that adds to the dysfunction of a weak coalition government. And I'm afraid that's not helping matters on the other side.
MARTIN: The perspective within the United States seems to be that these leaders are either totally incompetent or complicit. Do you have a guess about which of those things it is?
NAWAZ: It could be either. But it's the proof for the first has to come out. And I think a lot of the intelligence that has been picked up from the lair of Osama bin Laden is likely to give us some pointers towards that direction. And if it does come out, it'll be extremely bad for this relationship and for Pakistan.
And the other missing part in all of this is the fact that there's no relationship between counterintelligence and counterterrorism. And so the civilian police authorities - and there are about 19 different agencies that don't talk to each other and they definitely don't talk to the military intelligence. So those are the people on the ground that we need to bring on board.
MARTIN: That lack of connecting the dots was something that was discussed widely here in this country in the wake of 9/11. It sounds like you're saying that there is no ability to connect the dots in Pakistan's...
MARTIN: ...military and intelligence sort of structure. What about the view there? I mean, I think people here were thinking to themselves, well, what if a foreign power came to U.S. territory, even to apprehend someone who was of great interest and had committed crimes against that country? It would create some feelings, you know, in the United States. And I'm wondering, what is the reaction in Pakistan to this?
NAWAZ: Interestingly, I was expecting quite an outcry in public, and it has not appeared, which is very surprising, because in March, after the drone attack, the army chief had a very tough statement in which he said that Pakistan would not tolerate this kind of intrusion, et cetera. Well, this is much more than just an intrusion. This, as you were saying, is an invasion of Pakistani space and territory and its sovereignty and yet there has been no comment about that.
It is almost as if this was just another drone attack somewhere in the border region, which it is not. There's, unfortunately, not even any public outcry and Parliament is completely mum on this issue.
MARTIN: And why do you think that is?
NAWAZ: I think that Pakistan is just very embarrassed by its inability to protect its borders, all the borders and all the space. If not, will this open the door to drone attacks in central areas of Pakistan, in Baluchistan, or even in the Punjab?
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Shuja Nawaz of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States. We're talking about U.S./Pakistani relations in the wake of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound just a few miles from the capital, Islamabad.
I wanted to play a piece of tape from White House press secretary Jay Carney's press conference and talk about what this means, of course, for the future of relations between U.S. and Pakistan. We'll play that. Here it is.
JAY CARNEY: Lopping the head off the snake is important, but the body, while battered and bruised because of the actions that have been taken over the years, is still there and we need to bury that body. We need to keep the fight up against al-Qaida, and Pakistan is very important - a very important partner in that effort.
MARTIN: When we speak about the region, the politics of the region, we often use the term peace partner. You know, who is a peace partner and who is not a peace partner. And while it is true that, you know, Pakistan offers the only, say, supply route for resupplying the troops in Afghanistan, is Pakistan really a partner in fighting terrorism?
NAWAZ: Pakistan is a partner in fighting terrorism globally because it is as committed against al-Qaida as the United States, as evidenced from all the captures that have taken place and that have taken place in Pakistan with the help of Pakistani authorities. So that's one side of the story.
Pakistan is also fighting terrorism inside its own country and paying a very heavy price for it; terrorism that was sparked by moving Pakistan forces into the border region in support of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. So the Pakistanis' narrative from their side is we are doing our bit to help you and we got clobbered as a result.
Pakistan has been holding back on acting against some of the Afghan Taliban because it has regional interests and it doesn't want to broaden the war front against them, forcing them to become allies of the internal terrorists inside Pakistan, which would be a much more costlier effort for Pakistan going into the future.
So is Pakistan a peace partner? Yes. In terms of a stable, prosperous Afghanistan, that is what Pakistan would desire because that reduces the possibility of terror inside its own boundary.
MARTIN: And, finally, I'm sure, you know, you're aware of these debates on Capitol Hill now. Pakistan receives billions in U.S. aid mainly for the military and there's some discussion now about freezing aid to Pakistan until these questions about what the leadership there knew and when they knew it, are answered. And I'd like to ask whether you think that that's a - is that a necessary course? Is that a productive course?
NAWAZ: I think at this point without the evidence having been collected and presented to the Pakistanis, that would be extremely counterproductive because there is an enterprise under way, which is the war in Afghanistan. And Pakistan is still playing a critical role as a conduit for equipment and supplies that go to Afghanistan. Pakistan also can play a role in any political settlement in Afghanistan. So that would really bring everything to a crashing halt.
It's much better for the United States, as it has done, by making the token acknowledgement of Pakistan's cooperation and perhaps make it more than token and get into a serious discussion with them about how this cooperation goes forward while pursuing leads as to what evidence exists that there was official sanction or official complicity for these actions.
MARTIN: Shuja Nawaz is the author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within." He's also the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council of the United States and he was kind enough to join us once again in our studios in Washington, D.C. Shuja Nawaz, thank you so much for joining us.
NAWAZ: Thank you, Michel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.