Pakistanis React To New U.S.-Pakistan 'Partnership'

President Obama says one reason he intends to send more troops to Afghanistan is to keep the conflict from spilling over to Pakistan. He also promised a new strategic partnership with Pakistan while warning that that government's tolerance of radical groups to support its own agenda cannot continue. Host Michel Martin speaks with Najam Sethi, editor of the Lahore-based Daily Times newspaper, for more on Pakistani reactions.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now to Pakistan. President Obama said one reason he wants to send more troops and put more effort into Afghanistan is to keep the conflict from spilling over into Pakistan. He also promised a new strategic partnership with Pakistan, while warning that that government's tolerance of radical groups to support its own agenda cannot continue. We wanted to know more about how Pakistanis are responding to that part of the equation. So, we called Najam Sethi. He is the editor of the Lahore based Daily Times newspaper, and he joins us on the phone from Lahore. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor, Daily Times, Lahore): Hello.

MARTIN: So as you know, the president spent considerable time addressing the challenges Pakistan faces in light of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. On his speech on Tuesday, he talked about it extensively. I just want to play a short clip of what he said. Here it is.

President BARACK OBAMA: In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat, in South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

MARTIN: So first, Mr. Sethi, I wanted to ask, do you agree with the president's assessment and do you think most Pakistanis agree with his assessment that the U.S. and Pakistan share a common enemy?

Mr. SETHI: Yes, I think up to a point there is a lot of truth in this and the perception here is, yes, we do have a common enemy. But two important points, qualifications to this. First, that this is a recent phenomenon. Earlier, the perception was that this is America's war, this is not our war and we shouldn't be fighting it. The new perception, which is about two or three, four months old, is that yes, this is America's war also, but it'll also become our war.

But, there is a qualification to this qualification, which is that we are fighting the Pakistani Taliban and the Americans are fighting the Afghan Taliban. And that the Afghan Taliban are not necessarily our enemies. So there is a distinction being made here between three entities - the Al Qaida, which is our enemy as well as America's enemy, the Pakistani Taliban who are our enemy but we haven't had much support from the Americans in combating them, and the Afghan Taliban who are America's enemies and are of no threat or consequence to us. So there is this complication in this whole business of whose war it is.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask what Pakistan is prepared to do in that regard, given that, as you've pointed out, that Pakistanis perhaps make a distinction that Americans don't make. During the press conference earlier today in London, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani talked about the administration's new policy and he said, we need more clarity on it. When we get more clarity on it we can see what we can implement on that plan. And we know that the administration, the Obama administration has already communicated to the Pakistani government about specific objectives and plans.

So can you interpret what he's saying for us? It seems pretty clear on our end what the administration is planning to do. What is he saying?

Mr. SETHI: What he's saying is two things. And he's not the only one who's saying it. The Pakistani President, Mr. Zardari is saying it and the Pakistani Army Chief General Kayani is saying it as well. So the Prime Minister is really echoing the views of the national security establishment in Pakistan. What he's saying is this: that, A, we have not been consulted or brought to sit in to this review.

In the earlier days during Musharraf's time, Pakistan was a supporter of the war on terror. In other words, Pakistan's national security establishment facilitated the Pentagon and the Bush administration in combating the Taliban, which at that time was really Al-Qaida and the Afghan Taliban. But the rise of the Pakistani Taliban and their networking with the other two factions has made Pakistan one of the principal players in the game now.

So Pakistan's position now is, we're not just supporters of the war on terror, we're one of the principals. And the complaint is that Pakistan is not being consulted or taken into confidence as a principal actor or player in the great game here. And so I think that is what the message is from this side.

MARTIN: Najam Sethi is the editor of the Lahore-based Daily Times newspaper. I do want to mention that this week you were awarded the 2009 Golden Pen of Freedom Award, which is an annual press freedom prize given out by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. And I do want to convey our congratulations for that honor. So congratulations to you, and thank you again for joining us. You joined us on the phone from Lahore. Thank you again for speaking with us.

Mr. SETHI: Thank you.

MARTIN: Just ahead, what about the women? How will the Obama administration's proposed new strategy in Afghanistan affect the lives of women there? We'll have two views. That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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