Is It Worth Negotiating with Pakistani Militants?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
All right. From Pakistan now. For months, American officials have been watching political developments. Their voters in Pakistan chose a new government that is no longer controlled by US ally President Pervez Musharraf.
CHADWICK: Now, it looks as though Pakistan will strike a deal with a militant leader in the border area with Afghanistan, the same man accused of arranging the assassination of Benazir Bhutto during the election. We're joined by journalist Ahmed Rashid in Lahore. Ahmed, welcome back. And what's troubling for the US is that this border region is where the Taliban is very strong, where Osama Bin Laden is thought to be? What's going on?
Mr. AHMED RASHID (Journalist): It's a very, very complicated situation. It seems that the government and the military and the provincial government in the tribal areas are negotiating a deal with the Pakistani Taliban to hold attacks against Pakistani troops and police which are taking place. What is complicating is that for the Americans and for NATO in Afghanistan is that the deal seems to be limited to stopping Taliban attacks against Pakistani forces but not necessarily stopping Taliban crossing into Afghanistan and attacking U.S. and NATO forces inside Afghanistan. That is what is worrying the Americans.
CHADWICK: Ahmed, the government now in power in Pakistan, the new government is controlled by the party of Benazir Bhutto, why would it strike a deal with the militant group led by the man who's accused to of killing her?
Mr. RASHID: Well, I think, you know, there are several crisis going on here. There's an economic crisis because of the increase in oil prices and food prices. There's a political crisis with President Musharraf and of course, there's this whole terrorism threat. And I think what the government is looking for is a breathing space. You know, they want an end to these suicide bombings and attacks against Pakistani security officers. But, of course, what the Pakistanis have to give away in order to get this breathing space, this is what is creating the problems and the tension.
CHADWICK: What do you think the U.S. could do or might do about this and let's note that the Americans have been using more drone planes to carry out attacks on militants not necessarily with the approval of Pakistan's government?
Mr. RASHID: Well, what we know is that at least for the time being, I think the Americans have agreed not to use drones until they see the shape of this agreement. Now, again, you have a problem here that I mean, if American intelligence in Afghanistan finds out that Taliban leaders and the Al-Qaeda leaders are gathering somewhere, there will be enormous pressure from the U.S. military to attack whereas in Washington, at least the White House's State Department, I think wants to give this new government a chance and wants to give this government a breathing space. The Bush administration has already taking so much flak for supporting Musharraf for too long and not supporting the democratic government. Now, if they attacked and if they carry on, as they were in the past, it will be seen by Pakistanis here as undermining the newly elected government.
CHADWICK: Ahmed Rashid with us from Lahore, Pakistan. He's got a new book coming out soon, "Descent into Chaos" that covers US policy and the region. Ahmed, thank you.
Mr. RASHID: Thank you.
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