A Look At Fraying Relations Between U.S., Pakistan

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NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington and former Pakistan analyst at the State Department, about the fraying relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

More now on the fraying relations between the U.S. and Pakistan. I'm joined by Marvin Weinbaum, who was a Pakistan analyst at the State Department. He's now scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Welcome.

Mr. MARVIN WEINBAUM (Middle East Institute): Thank you.

SIEGEL: U.S.-Pakistani relations seem to be in a very bad spot right now. Is that a fair summation?

Mr. WEINBAUM: Right. And I think that relationship has been fraying for some time now, particularly as our efforts in Afghanistan have gone worse than they had been. There's no question now that there's greater pressure to do something about Pakistan, to make Pakistan more of a partner in this counterinsurgency than it has been.

SIEGEL: What do you make of this argument over pursuit, sometimes it's referred to as hot pursuit? If the Taliban, whom the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan, are getting back across the border and finding refuge in Pakistan, the U.S. seems to feel it has the right - NATO has the right to pursue them on Pakistani soil. Pakistan says no such deal, at least publicly.

Mr. WEINBAUM: Well, there has been an understanding for sometime here that a limited amount of crossing the border in hot pursuit would be acceptable. But, its like so much else in that relationship, military to military. There have been tacit understandings which are not made public because the public itself has a very limited tolerance of any kind of cooperation with the United States militarily.

SIEGEL: The U.S. is unpopular with the people of Pakistan?

Mr. WEINBAUM: I would say so. Every poll that we have suggests that we're almost in the single digits when it comes to feelings towards the United States.

SIEGEL: The democratic government of Pakistan that we heard referred to is not very popular these days, either I gather, from the polls. Do you expect that we're at the end of one of those civilian-rule cycles and that the military is coming back sometime soon?

Mr. WEINBAUM: I think most of observers would probably answer in the negative. There's really no reason for the military to want to regain formal power. At this point in time, the military gets just about everything it needs. It controls foreign policy. It controls - has a veto over domestic policy that in any way affects its interests.

Why at this juncture would it want to take on the formal responsibility, particularly in a country where things have been going so badly? It has an understanding, though, in which it defers to the elected civilian government officials because it's important that the facade here, at least, of a democratic system is maintained. It's not entirely facade. It's more than that. That symbolism here that it remains a democracy remains important.

SIEGEL: And the military controls the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan?

Mr. WEINBAUM: Absolutely. Controls foreign policy towards India, towards the United States, towards Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: You said relations have been fraying for some time. These are our allies in the war in Afghanistan, and this is the country on whose soil the enemy is based at the same time. This seems to be one those cases where each side believes that if the other side really meant what it was doing, the situation could not persist.

Pakistani people think if the U.S. really wanted to win this war, we could win it hands down. And Americans say if the Pakistanis got serious about the Taliban on their soil, they'd get rid of them already.

Mr. WEINBAUM: The heart of the problem here is that the very people who we have seen as our enemies, like the Afghan Taliban, the so-called Haqqani network, the Hezb-i-Islami, these are all insurgent groups that were fighting in Afghanistan, that these very people are not viewed as the enemy by the Pakistan government. The Pakistan government has for some time seen these people as a surrogate force in Afghanistan, particularly as they expect the Americans and their allies won't be there over the long run.

So that's the real heart of it. That's to be distinguished from the Pakistani Taliban with whom they, obviously, are in a death struggle.

SIEGEL: Marvin Weinbaum, thank you very much.

Mr. WEINBAUM: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Marvin Weinbaum, scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.

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