Pakistan's Foreign Minister On U.S. Afghan Strategy

The Obama administration is engaged in an extensive review of its war strategy in Afghanistan, and the top U.S. and NATO commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has called stability in neighboring Pakistan "essential" to progress there. Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, talks with Renee Montagne.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The preparation for a Pakistani offensive comes under a fragile government. That's one reason Congress just approved billions of dollars in development aid. The U.S. wants to strengthen the government and make friends in a nation whose future is uncertain.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Policymakers are acutely aware of the links between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Anything that happens on one side of the border can affect people on the other. That connection is on President Obama's mind as he reviews his strategy. It will no doubt come up in talks this week between U.S. officials and Pakistan's foreign minister. I sat down with Shah Mahmood Qureshi as he arrived in the United States.

One of the options being considered by the president is one being talked about by Vice President Joe Biden, and that would be to scale back troops in Afghanistan, go after the terrorists, like al-Qaida. And he and there are others who have said that the main threat in terms of terrorism is coming from Pakistan. What would then that strategy mean for Pakistan?

SHAH MAHMOOD QURESHI (Foreign Minister, Pakistan): The government of Pakistan is playing its role to deal with that threat, and we have done so in a convincing manner in the last year and a half. But today, as we put on the heat on the terrorists in Pakistan in the tribal belt, they are fleeing Pakistan. The sanctuaries that they had are no longer acceptable to the people of Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: In terms of sanctuaries, U.S. intelligence has said that Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader is operating with his council of other Taliban leaders around the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Shah QURESHI: Okay, if theā€¦

MONTAGNE: That he's directing Taliban attacks from Pakistan, and he does, in fact, have a safe haven.

Shah QURESHI: Okay. If the U.S. intelligence is that clear, they should share that intelligence with us and we'll help them catch him, because we have an interest in getting hold of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, right? But we are not sure of their presence. If you are confident of the information that you have, we are your allies. Share it with us.

MONTAGNE: And you're saying they have not shared the coordinates for where Mullah Omar is.

Shah QURESHI: I don't think they know.

MONTAGNE: Although, Quetta is not a big city.

Shah QURESHI: Yes.

MONTAGNE: It would seem like your own intelligence people could find him if they looked.

Shah QURESHI: If they were there, yes. If they were there, we could have traced them out by now. But we don't think that they're there.

MONTAGNE: You think he's where?

Shah QURESHI: That's the million dollar question.

MONTAGNE: Although, it's not just U.S. intelligence - General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, his report on the deteriorating situation there in Afghanistan includes this passage, and if you bear with me, I'll read it to you.

Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan, are linked with al-Qaida and other violent extremist groups, and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI, which is Pakistan's Intelligence Services. What do you say to that?

Shah QURESHI: I would say there are some elements in Pakistan that have sympathy for such elements, such fundamentalists, but the overall majority of people of Pakistan have no sympathy for them.

MONTAGNE: And again, talking about safe havens, a story like that of the arrest of terrorism suspect Najibullah Zazi - who is, of course, Afghan - but was arrested in the U.S. with federal prosecutors alleging that he traveled to Pakistan for explosives training at an al-Qaida camp just last year.

Shah QURESHI: Well, we have a policy of searching for these camps and eliminating these camps, and we have successfully done so in the last few years. The amount of al-Qaida associates that we have apprehended, that we have arrested, no other country has done so. Do not underestimate the contribution that Pakistan has made. Without Pakistan's logistic support, without Pakistan's intelligence cooperation, without Pakistan's sympathy, and without Pakistan being on your side, you wouldn't have achieved what you have achieved so far.

MONTAGNE: What would Pakistan want from the United States? The United States wants more from Pakistan in the way of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. What does Pakistan want from the U.S.?

Shah QURESHI: A greater understanding of Pakistan, help us stabilize our economy, and more consultations with Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: In what way?

Shah QURESHI: In formulating policy, in dividing a strategy.

MONTAGNE: And the U.S., in your view, hasn't done enough consultation?

Shah QURESHI: No, I'm not saying they haven't done, but I'm saying more is required, more engagement is required.

MONTAGNE: But it is that - and I am correct that Pakistanis, they view the United States with a certain amount of suspicion, with a certain amount of hostility.

Shah QURESHI: I wouldn't say hostility, but they are aware of history because they feel let down, they feel that you came into Afghanistan and Pakistan helped you push the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Back in the '80s.

Shah QURESHI: Yes. But you left. You abandoned us. You left without seeing through the implications and the consequences that fight has had on Pakistan. Are you aware of the fact that we still have almost three million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan? Aren't they a drain on our resources? Has somebody even thought about that? That's one example. And there are many such examples.

MONTAGNE: So in this moment, in this pivotal moment when decisions are being made about how to fight the war in Afghanistan, what would be the best decision that could be made from Pakistan's point of view?

Shah QURESHI: A lot of commitment to Pakistan and the region, so that when you do recede, we ensure that we have in place structures to replace and not create a vacuum that you created in the past.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Minister, thank you very much.

Shah QURESHI: Well, thank you.

MONTAGNE: Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

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