Declining Drone Strikes Give Cover To Pakistan's Peace Talks

Talks are underway between representatives of the Taliban and Pakistan's government. Meanwhile, the U.S. appears to have slowed the pace of drone attacks on Pakistan, which may be intended to allow Islamabad to pursue these peace talks. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Shuja Nawaz, the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

To Pakistan now, where the government has begun peace talks with representatives of the Pakistani Taliban. Now, whether to talk to or keep fighting the Taliban is debated by U.S. policymakers. The debate is especially urgent in Pakistan where tens of thousands of lives have been lost in the battle between the Pakistani Taliban and the government.

Shuja Nawaz joins us now. He's director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. Shuja thanks so much for being back with us.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Thank you, Scott. Good to be back with you.

SIMON: I understand the Taliban has nominated negotiators. Who are they?

NAWAZ: The negotiators are a very curious bunch. They named five people originally, but two of them dropped out, including the famous cricketer, Imran Khan, who's turned politician; and the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, both of who said they had not been consulted.

And so it's quite clear that the Taliban basically nominated people without consultation. The one thing they all have in common is that they all want to impose Sharia Islamic law in Pakistan.

SIMON: Shuja, are these talks for real, or does each side just gain something by the appearance of talks?

NAWAZ: It's a bit of a kabuki theater in my view. There is going to be some shadow play, but I doubt that they can reach agreement for the simple reason that Taliban have a very clear objective. Their objective is to impose Sharia rule in the federally administered tribal area first and then all of Pakistan. The government side has not yet declared its ultimate objective. So my guess is that the government is waiting for these talks to proceed and then fail. And then the public will be suitably incensed to support military action.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, which I guess I'll call it tenuous because that word's in the subtitle of one of your books, "Pakistan and the Danger Zone: A Tenuous U.S./Pakistan Relationship." Washington Post reported this week that the Obama administration is reducing drone strikes in Pakistan for the government to be able to pursue these talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Not a formal agreement, but according to the Post it's a decision his policymakers made. Does this jibe with what you've seen and heard and know?

NAWAZ: Well, clearly there is a thawing of this relationship. It hit a low point in 2011 when a lot of bad things happened between the two countries, including the raid on Abbottabad when Osama Bin Laden was killed. But, you know, when you're in a hole, the only way is up and so it's on the upswing now. It's not back to normalcy and I think the United States is really taking advantage of this opportunity of renewed strategic dialogue with Pakistan to help the civilian government establish control.

I don't know to what extent this is also tied to the drawdown in Afghanistan. Because of necessity, the need for the drone attacks will gradually diminish, and indeed in the last few months there have been fewer attacks.

SIMON: A couple of years ago the U.S. called a pause in drone strikes. Did that foster a better relationship with Pakistan?

NAWAZ: I think it helps the government because this has been a drumbeat from the public as well as the opposition parties and it also takes the argument away from the Islamist parties that the Pakistani government is under the thumb of the United States since it is infringing Pakistani sovereignty with the drone strikes.

So any pause in the drone strikes will help. In the longer run, an end to the drone strikes or some kind of joint management of drone strikes is probably the best solution.

SIMON: Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council and author of "Pakistan and the Dangers Zone: A Tenuous U.S.-Pakistan Relationship." Thanks so much for being here.

NAWAZ: Thank you.

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SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

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