Details Emerge On Pakistani Attack On U.S. Officers

At a moment when the partnership between the United States and Pakistan is fraying, new details are emerging about an ambush where Pakistani troops attacked visiting U.S. officers. Michele Norris talks with New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall about her story on the attack.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: Is Pakistan an ally or an enemy to the United States? It's an explosive question, and open discussion of it in official Washington is really just beginning. Last week, Joint Chiefs' chairman Mike Mullen testified bluntly to Congress about the Taliban's relationship with Pakistan's intelligence agency.

And today, The New York Times revisits the story that sheds some additional light. Back in 2007, there was a deadly Pakistani attack on U.S. and Afghan officers in Pakistan. They were there to negotiate a settlement to a border dispute.

And New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall says after reaching a settlement, the Pakistani troops attacked.

CARLOTTA GALL: It was as they were saying goodbye and getting into vehicles to drive to the helipad that Pakistanis opened fire. And it wasn't, as we were told at the time, just one shooter. It turned out it was multiple people opened fire.

The most fascinating thing is, since the story ran today, I've been contacted by people who remember that incident, including an Afghan presidential aide who said, we were aware of it at the time. And then we were told, in no uncertain terms by Washington, to stop talking about it. And I think that was the beginning of what was, in fact, a hushed up affair.

NORRIS: Help us understand something, because last week the man who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before Congress and he did not mince words. He told Congress that "the most violent of the Taliban factions acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan's intelligence agency." That was a direct quote there.

And he's saying this before Congress but, at the same time, the military is keeping an ambush like this under wraps. Why would the military bury something like this?

GALL: Well, this is the perennial debate. Do you rub Pakistan's nose in it; do you confront them publicly; or do you confront them privately and give them the support and honor as an ally in public? And I think that has long been the policy and that is something the Pakistanis have always insisted on.

Now, Mullen is very interesting because he has always seemed to be the one who's tried to be a great friend of Pakistan. And even while not mincing words in his testimony the other day, he then said he still believed the way forward is to work on building a better relationship with Pakistan. And so it's this difficulty for America to find how does it have any leverage over Pakistan. And how does it contain its violent strategy? And I think America is at a loss, in fact.

NORRIS: For now, Pakistan is still presumed to be an ally, but what if that relationship changed? What if the US no longer maintained that kind of close and even if it is fragile, sense of sort of close relationship with that country? What if they moved out of official ally status?

CAROLOTTA GALL: I don't see that coming. You know, Pakistan's nuclear power. They've got a huge army. They provide the corridors, land and air, for a lot of the operations by NATO and the American forces in Afghanistan.

So I don't see any move to break the relationship, but it's limping along and I think with these comments and these frustrations coming out, I don't see a rapid improvement. So I think we'll see a very bumpy ride for both countries and for Afghanistan, of course, caught in the middle for a long time yet.

NORRIS: Rough marriage, divorce not possible.

GALL: I think so.

NORRIS: Carlotta Gall, thank you very much.

GALL: Thank you.

NORRIS: Carlotta Gall is a reporter with The New York Times.

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