Pakistan Contemplates Obama's Afghan War Strategy

One of the world leaders President Obama called before his speech about Afghanistan was Pakistan's President Asif Zardari. Journalist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore tells Renee Montagne that after some Pakistanis heard the speech, they became worried about the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan. They don't think the Taliban can be beaten back in the time announced by Obama.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the world leaders President Obama called before his speech about Afghanistan was the president of Pakistan. In his speech, Mr. Obama said that success in Afghanistan is linked to a partnership with Pakistan. The two share a border and also a Taliban insurgency. To get one view from Pakistan, we turn to journalist Ahmed Rashid. His latest book on his country is called �Descent into Chaos� and we reached him in Lahore.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's begin with how President Obama's Afghanistan strategy is viewed in Pakistan. I know the speech came early in the morning there. Have you been able to talk to people?

Mr. AHMED RASHID (Author, �Descent into Chaos�): Well, the general perception amongst liberal Pakistanis is, I think, that the Americans are really basically pulling out of Afghanistan within the next 18 months or two years. And that is cause for some trepidation regarding whether the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan can be beaten back in such a time.

Secondly, I think the other cause for concern is that Obama has laid it out very frankly that the Afghan Taliban has sanctuary in Pakistan and that the military must now do something about this. It has never been a clearer statement about this than what we heard, and we are waiting to see what the military and the government's reaction to this will be.

MONTAGNE: He also emphasized, in his speech, a long-term commitment to what he called an ally, and that would be Pakistan.

Mr. RASHID: Yes, I agree with you. I mean he laid a lot of emphasis on that in his speech. But I think the gut reaction of many people here is not going to be listening to that part of the speech, but listening more to the date set(ph) that by July 2011, some American troops will start withdrawing from Afghanistan. Now, of course, many people here will be welcoming that, the right wing, the sympathizers of the Taliban, the people who believe that the cause of all this Taliban unrest is only because of the American presence in Afghanistan.

But I think a lot of middle class, liberal Pakistanis, as well as the politicians, will be very concerned about the start of any U.S. withdrawal.

MONTAGNE: Do you think Pakistan will be doing anything differently, based on President Obama's new policy to send these additional troops.

Mr. RASHID: I think it's really crunch time now for the military. It's been laid on the line now, that they have to deal with the Afghan Taliban. There are both incentives for Pakistan to do something and threats if Pakistan does not do anything. There is a suggestion for example that the drone attacks on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan could be extended deeper into Pakistan, and I can only hope that this speech will spur the military on towards a change of tactics and a change of strategy in the attitude to the Afghan Taliban which has so far been very sympathetic.

MONTAGNE: How much help will, in your opinion, the civilian aid do - that has been promised over the next years to Pakistan?

Mr. RASHID: Well, the civilian aid could do a great deal to bolster a very weak elected government. Democracy has just been reinstated in Pakistan for the last year or so. The government is very weak. It is facing a political crisis. There is a huge economic crisis, and certainly the government could do with aid and of course American aid also means that others would follow suit - the Europeans, European Union hopefully could come through, also, with money if they see American aid being well used and well received here.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. RASHID: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Ahmed Rashid is author of the book, �Taliban�. He joined us from Lahore, Pakistan.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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