STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going to follow up now on what appears to be a new level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. A series of Pakistani army offensives against domestic militants and a string of arrests of senior Afghan Taliban signal a new understanding between the two countries. As Pakistan accelerates action against extremists, Washington has reciprocated with the delivery of military hardware and praise for the Pakistani government.
But the accommodations Pakistan is willing to make extend only so far, as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad.
JULIE MCCARTHY: For years, Pakistan denied that any senior members of the Afghan Taliban were on its soil. But those denials were cast aside last month when Pakistani and American intelligence agents arrested Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's deputy leader in a joint raid in the Pakistani port of Karachi.
Pakistan helped create the Taliban and facilitated its rise to power in Afghanistan in the turbulent years after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. But retired Pakistani brigadier Talit Massoud(ph) says his country's policy is changing.
Mr. TALIT MASSOUD (Retired Brigadier): I think Pakistan has realized that it can't continue to support militants and at the same time be an ally with the United States. So I think there is a shift which is taking place. It is a gradual shift. But the realization is already there. I think we have to understand that.
MCCARTHY: A senior Pakistani intelligence official confirmed that the CIA and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, have conducted 63 joint operations in the past year, often traveling in the same vehicle to retrieve their quarry, and sitting behind the same glass when interrogating suspects.
Newspaper editor Najam Sefi(ph) says Pakistan has grasped that the Afghan Taliban is not separate from the Pakistan Taliban, with whom the country is at war.
Mr. NAJAM SEFI (Newspaper Editor): The Pakistanis now have come around to the fact that this is a seamless networking in many ways, and the CIA is doing its job of intelligence and the Pakistanis are doing their job of physical manning(ph).
MCCARTHY: But Moeed Yusuf, South Asia advisor at the U.S. Institute for Peace, does not see the recent string of arrests as a strategic shift. Pakistan reportedly fears being excluded from any talks with the Afghan Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan. Moeed Yusuf says Pakistan helped capture the Afghan Taliban second-in-command Mullah Baradar to stay relevant and to ensure a place for itself at the table when the parties explore a negotiated end to the Afghan war.
Mr. MOEED YUSUF (South Asia Advisor, U.S. Institute for Peace): And I think this was a clear message from the Pakistani establishment both to the U.S., as well to the Afghan Taliban, that we are going to be the main interlocutors. And Pakistan, because of its own paranoia that it may be left out, will continue to signal this off and on.
MCCARTHY: The Pakistanis show no signs of handing Mullah Baradar over to the Americans or the Afghan government, though a Pakistani intelligence source said the Americans have equal access to the key Taliban commander.
Whatever differences exist over the handling of the Afghan Taliban, Americans give high marks to Pakistan's campaign against its homegrown Taliban. The Pakistan army has been busily sweeping militants from their strongholds in the treacherous tribal belt along the Afghan border.
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MCCARTHY: This past week in the tribal enclave of Bajaur, the smallest of Pakistan's seven tribal districts, a civilian militia, or lashkar, 1,000 men strong, brandished guns and sang songs to celebrate the defeat of the Taliban in Bajaur. Here, Pakistan's army unearthed a honeycomb of caves that the top brass described as a nerve center for the Taliban and a one-time haven for al-Qaida.
It attracted an assortment of extremists who launched attacks against Pakistani targets, as well as NATO troops next door.
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MCCARTHY: Pointing to a strategic ridge just beside a beautiful snowcapped peak, Pakistan's paramilitary frontier corps chief, General Tariq Khan, says his forces recently seized the area after a fierce battle and planted the green crescent flag of Pakistan over the hills that foreign and local militants once controlled.
General TARIQ KHAN (Chief, Pakistan Paramilitary Frontier Corps): This is the conduit which they used to travel in and out. Do you see the white spots? That's where my men are now. And we had to fight...
MCCARTHY: Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group says Pakistan's military leadership has definitely reframed the war on extremists, replacing the American mantra of do more with their own rhetoric.
Ms. SAMINA AHMED (International Crisis Group): For example, this is our war. This is not just yours. This is not being thrust upon us. We are willing to do this for our own sake.
MCCARTHY: And she says the U.S. officials beating a path to army headquarters here come away impressed with the military's performance beating back the Pakistani Taliban.
Ms. AHMED: They all leave saying, what a great job - no longer just words. It's action on the ground.
MCCARTHY: But Samina Ahmed says Pakistan's relations with other militant commanders remain intact.
Ms. AHMED: While there's been some action taken on some Taliban groups, there hasn't been action taken against the Kashmir-based, the India-based jihadis, some Afghan insurgent groups, as well, such as the Haqqani Network.
MCCARTHY: Operating from Pakistan, Sarajuddin Haqqani and his network of Afghan insurgents attack U.S. and NATO troops across the border. The CIA believes Haqqani had a role in the killing of seven Americans in eastern Afghanistan in December.
A Pakistani intelligence source said: We'll get him when his time comes. Defense analyst Talit Massoud says Pakistan must act on its own timetable.
Mr. MASSOUD: As it is, it is already overstretched. So it has to really calibrate its response to the American pressures.
MCCARTHY: Amir Sultan Tarar is a former Pakistan intelligence officer with a devotion to Allah and the Afghan Taliban. Also known as Colonel Imam, he played a prominent role in recruiting and training resistance fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. His views reflect a deep distrust of the U.S. that has long run through the Pakistan military, the intelligence services and the Pakistani people.
Mr. AMIR SULTAN TARAR (Former Intelligence Officer): We have been treated as a subjugated nation. We have no free will, please understand that. But this is the way.
MCCARTHY: Colonel Imam says Pakistan has little choice but to get in line with the U.S. demand for more cooperation in the battle against the Taliban.
Mr. TARAR: Telling us to do more, what a wisdom. You do more, you make more enemies. We are doing the wrong thing, on the American behest.
MCCARTHY: On behest of the Americans.
Mr. TARAR: Of course, just to please them.
MCCARTHY: Pakistan is now going after its former allies. To accommodate Pakistan, the U.S. is easing Pakistani concerns about India and providing long-sought F-16 jets and billions of dollars in development aid. It is costly. But in the words of one American official, we are in a race for the fate of Pakistan.
Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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