ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
No country in the world has a stronger interest in Afghanistan than neighboring Pakistan. And with the London conference under way, we've invited Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, to give us some sense of Pakistan's stake in whats happening there.
Hi, welcome to the program once again.
Ambassador HUSAIN HAQQANI (Pakistan): Pleasure being here, as always.
SIEGEL: First, al-Qaida and its Taliban allies are based in your country. The Pakistani army says it can't stage any new offensive for six months or a year now until they can consolidate gains already accomplished.
Can you appreciate the frustration of the U.S. military thinking that Pakistan ought to do something more soon?
Ambassador HAQQANI: I think we have a shared frustration that the Taliban and al-Qaida move between the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan and manage to have the support of some of the people living there. It is unfair to characterize it as an al-Qaida or Taliban base in Pakistan because the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military and the Pakistani people want to fight these people.
SIEGEL: On the military side, the U.S. is reported to have stepped up drone strikes on Taliban targets on Pakistani soil. Whats Pakistan's attitude?
Ambassador HAQQANI: Pakistan prefers to do everything on the Pakistani side of the border itself. And the reason is very simple: We have a military capability in certain areas and in some areas we lack certain technical capabilities, and we would like that technical capability for ourselves.
At the same time, you must also understand that when you have unarmed aerial vehicles drop missiles, taking out people, and it infuriates public opinion, then obviously the Pakistani government has to say - has to stand by Pakistani public opinion. That said, both governments understand the need for dealing with individuals who pose a threat to global peace and security.
SIEGEL: But would it be any better for the Pakistani government to be the army thats dropping the missiles on Taliban targets and then for you to be hitting the occasional innocent bystander?
Ambassador HAQQANI: Well, I think that that is a matter that has to best be dealt with by our respective intelligence services and our militaries as to what is the best manner. The government of Pakistan has repeatedly said that we would also like to have the capability to be able to identify and take out targets on ground.
SIEGEL: Does the fact of the London conference, or what youve heard out of the London conference, persuade you that whatever the outcome in the war against al-Qaida, that the U.S. and NATO and other European countries will not walk out on the region the way they did after the defeat of the Soviet Union?
Ambassador HAQQANI: I think only time will prove whether the United States and the Europeans walk out or do not walk out. That said, my understanding from interaction with senior officials in the United States is that the Obama administration does not wish to walk away from Afghanistan, that it understands the cost of doing so, and that nobody wants a Central Asian Somalia or a failed state as a legacy.
Ambassador HAQQANI: After all, they don't want anybody plotting and planning attacks against America sitting in Afghanistan.
SIEGEL: But, Ambassador Haqqani, you can appreciate the mixed message Americans who read the newspapers follow, which is Afghanistan and Pakistan are very concerned that the U.S. should not simply leave Afghanistan the way it left Afghanistan after the war against the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, I just heard a very senior official in the administration talk about how the U.S. reputation in the world has improved just about everywhere, with the notable exception of Pakistan, where we have a real problem.
Do you want us there or do you want us out?
Ambassador HAQQANI: Oh. Look, most Pakistanis also say, in the same opinion polls there, most Pakistanis express reservations about the United States. When asked that question - do you want the United States to be a friend of Pakistan? - they say, yes, we do.
But if there are reservations about the manner of engagement, then that is something we can work upon. And, in fact, I consider that my job description. Im trying to find a way in which we can keep American engagement in our region but in a way in which it finds support of the people of Pakistan and the support in some (unintelligible) people of Afghanistan.
SIEGEL: Ambassador Haqqani, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ambassador HAQQANI: Pleasure, as always.
SIEGEL: Husain Haqqani is Pakistan's ambassador to the United States.
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