U.S. Prepares To Limit Relationship With Pakistan

U.S. officials may be giving up on their goal of strong relations with Pakistan. That's the suggestion, anyway, in the details of a report by The New York Times. The report describes the U.S. preparing for a much more limited relationship after U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed Pakistani troops across the border. Eric Schmitt, who authored the report, talks to Steve Inskeep about deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

American officials may be giving up on their goal of strong relations with Pakistan. That's the suggestion, anyway, in the details of a report by The New York Times. The report describes the U.S. preparing for a much more limited relationship after U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed Pakistani troops across the border.

Eric Schmitt of The New York Times authored that story. He's in our studio.

Eric, good morning.

ERIC SCHMITT: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You know, the old line during all this year of difficulty with Pakistan is we know this is a really hard relationship, but it's so, so vital. People keep saying that we need each other. Now, you seem to be talking to people who are saying, well, maybe not so much.

SCHMITT: I was struck, Steve. This is my fifth reporting trip to Pakistan in three years, and I was struck at the tone both from American officials there and Pakistani officials, both of whom really believe this relationship is entering a new phase - as you said, a much more limited phase, whether it deals with the drone strikes, whether it deals with security aid, which is going down, the number of visas that Pakistan is issuing now is - continue to go down.

And both sides are really looking at this in a much different way, in a more - what they call the more transactional way - piece by piece, step by step, rather than a very ambitious strategic relationship.

INSKEEP: The quotes that you got from people are striking also, because you have Americans and Pakistanis describing their relationship almost in terms of jilted lovers.

SCHMITT: Yes. I had one senior member of an opposition party talking about this as kind of the U.S. treating Pakistan as a rainy day girlfriend. I mean, that's kind of how they feel, kind of humiliated, embarrassed and again, used in certain ways - used for security purposes, and then left by the wayside.

INSKEEP: They were angry about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and not being told. They were angry about Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who was caught after allegedly killing two people. They also were angry about this battle, this confusing battle that killed more than two dozen Pakistanis, or around two dozen Pakistanis a few weeks ago. U.S. forces have published their investigation of what they think went wrong. Is there any clarity offered by that report?

SCHMITT: It's tough, Steve, because Pakistan did not participate in this review, so you're really getting one side of it. Pakistan has come out with its own version of events. They say they did not fire the first shots, as the Americans do. They say they were basically firing back when they thought they were being attacked. The Americans say, of course, that the Pakistanis were attacking their ground patrol, and that they were firing in self-defense.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask what all this means, Eric Schmitt, for both of United States and for Pakistan. Americans have said over and over again: We're so frustrated by this country, but we need them so badly. We need them for counter-terrorism operations. We need them for a supply route to Afghanistan. If the U.S. is now saying, well, OK. We can't have a very good relationship with them, what does that mean for the United States?

SCHMITT: I think what it means, Steve, is very selective agreements on certain key things - I mean, as you mentioned, counter-terrorism operations. There's still going to be some cooperation between the CIA and the Pakistani spy agency, the ISI - fewer drone strikes, however. There are fewer targets for them to go after. I think you will see, as American troops start to go down in Afghanistan, the Americans have already looked for different routes into that country for getting their supplies in, for instance.

INSKEEP: So there might be no supply route through Pakistan?

SCHMITT: It'll be much more limited, I think. I think the Americans have already seen that they need to expand their northern routes. They need to expand their flights in. And I think what material they do get in, they're going to have to pay a lot more for, too, because Pakistan realizes they're going to up the cost of these supplies that are going in over their roads.

INSKEEP: And we've just got a few seconds, Eric Schmitt, but I want to ask about one other thing here on the Pakistani side. Civilians in Pakistan have been frustrated for years and said the U.S. has supported the military to the exclusion of civilians. Now you're saying that U.S. military aid, which in many ways has been suspended in recent months, may remain that way. Could that actually be a good thing for Pakistan?

SCHMITT: I think it could be, Steve. I mean, this is a country, really, that's become dependent upon American aid through the military. And I think if you look at how the Pakistani troops now are deployed, 150,000 on the border. Right now, they're going to have to take a hard look and see what their security interests are, and whether they can really continue to manage the threat that they see - and that is India, of course. And if they can revamp that relationship, I think you'll see tensions go down quite a bit in that region.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks for coming by.

SCHMITT: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Eric Schmitt of the New York Times is also co-author of "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against al-Qaida."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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