Pakistan Faces New Challenges Under Rising Tensions

Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin talks with NPR's Islamabad bureau chief Julie McCarthy about the the tensions and challenges which are shaping Pakistan from inside and out.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Just when it seemed that the fractious between the U.S. and its ally Pakistan couldn't get worse, they have. Calls on Capitol Hill to scale back aid to Pakistan are getting louder. And in the last couple of days, Pakistani officials have derided comments by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who, on a recent trip to Kabul, said the U.S. was, quote, "reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan."

This morning, we're taking a closer look at Pakistan and how it's affecting U.S. foreign policy in the region. To start our conversation, NPR's Islamabad bureau chief Julie McCarthy joins me now.

Julie, good morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: You have been covering Pakistan, living in that country for the past three years. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been rough for a long time, Julie. But does this moment feel different?

MCCARTHY: Yes, it does. And I'd say there has been an accelerating downward spiral. The harsh language you mentioned coming from Washington is really kind of proof of that. The Obama administration took office with a generous outstretched hand to Pakistan. The U.S. offered big aid packages to strengthen the civilian government and to turn back the tide of this anti-American sentiment that so pervasive here.

And, Rachel, the most recent one is this furor over the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA hunt down Osama bin Laden. Many Pakistanis think he's a traitor. Capitol Hill calls him a hero and vows to cut off aid over his jailing. So aid is openly trumpeted as a means to punish Pakistan, and is losing its friend in Washington.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk more about that. The U.S. has pledged billions of dollars to Pakistan, tens of millions have already been allocated. Millions more have been held up because of disputes like the one you just outlined. But if there's so much anti-Americanism in Pakistan, do the Pakistani people even really want the aid?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: Good question. A percentage of the population just rejects it entirely. But we conducted a very unscientific survey and most people we encountered said, yes to aid. However, they want it transparent, and they're indignant about corruption. You know, the latest allegations involve Pakistan children's television delivering "Sesame Street" here.

But one government employee, Mohammad Ayub, summed up the general attitude of Pakistanis towards aid and says it should be directed to these acute problems, like energy and health. Here, he's speaking through an interpreter.

MOHAMMAD AYUB: (Through Translator) It should be for the welfare of the people. It should be for the development of the country. The basic problem is that rulers are not paying attention to any problem. They're just thinking about themselves. If aid were properly used, would we be in this situation?

MCCARTHY: Mohammad Ayub also said that nothing was more important than the country's sovereignty. And that if we have to take aid, we should do it with dignity - a theme you hear again and again.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, Julie. And stay with us, if you would, because we're going to hear more on this question of aid.

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