MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To Pakistan now, where the U.S. wants a bigger presence on the ground. Over the past few months, administration and military officials have been trying to convince Pakistan to allow one. They're concerned about a resurgence of Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border. But the idea of a larger American presence is widely unpopular in Pakistan.
As NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM: For the past six years, Pakistan has been a crucial but reluctant ally for the U.S. in its fight against terrorism. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has allowed, among other things, some U.S. troops on its soil and the use of several air bases in the tribal region for the war in neighboring Afghanistan. But the anger in Pakistan against Musharraf for forging ties with the U.S. is worsening. Washington also hasn't been satisfied. U.S. intelligence agencies say that the Taliban and al-Qaida have grown in strength and numbers. Now, the U.S. wants to strengthen its alliance with Pakistan to deal with the resurgence. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): We remain ready, willing and able to assist the Pakistanis and to partner with them, to provide additional training to conduct joint operations should they desire to do so. The problem is there isn't any desire by Pakistan's government, its military or its public to increase cooperation with the U.S. Certainly not conduct joint military operations with American troops. Retired Brigadier Javed Iqbal Cheema is a spokesman for Pakistan's interior ministry.
Mr. JAVED IQBAL CHEEMA (Director General, Interior Ministry, Pakistan): I think the government response is absolutely clear. And I think it has been made clear a number of times that we would not allow anybody to come and operate in other areas.
NORTHAM: Cheema says Pakistan may be open to getting more surveillance equipment, some training or advising from the U.S. But no more American troops or CIA operatives on the ground. Cheema says Pakistan's military is fully capable to fight extremists in the tribal areas.
Mr. CHEEMA: We know the people, we know the terrain, we know the dynamics of the area. So I think nobody is more competent to operate in the tribal areas than the Pakistani troops and Pakistani forces.
NORTHAM: Pakistan's military has launched several major offensive recently in the rugged and remote regions where militants are active, in part, out of pressure by the U.S. Rahimullah Yusufzai is the editor of a Pakistani newspaper, The News, in the frontier city of Peshawar. He says Pakistan's army is geared more for a major war with India than it is for rooting out Taliban and al-Qaida extremists.
Mr. RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI (Editor, The News): Almost 1,100 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the last three or four years fighting in (unintelligible) and other trouble spots. So I think that they need counterinsurgency skills and training.
NORTHAM: Yusufzai says the war on terrorism is seen as America's war, not Pakistan's war, with many people in Pakistan viewing Musharraf as a puppet of Washington. Retired Brigadier Mahmood Shad says Musharraf understands that allowing in more U.S. soldiers or operatives could jeopardize his future.
Mr. MAHMOOD SHAD (Former Secretary of Security, Federally Administered Tribal Areas): The people are ready. The anti-American feelings are very high in Pakistan. In fact, if American troops intervene here, the — I don't want to prophesize, but I think President Musharraf was wrong.
NORTHAM: Retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul is a former head of Pakistan's intelligence service and has close ties with the Taliban. Gul says the U.S. needs to thread carefully. If it goes against the will of the people of Pakistan, it could be counterproductive in its fight against terrorism.
Mr. HAMID GUL (Former Director, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan): It's an odd way to lessen their problems, it is going to increase — it is going to be incremental to the resistance that is going on the war against terrorism. So the (unintelligible) that do you want — or do the Americans want a hostile Pakistan? Do they want a Pakistan on the lines of Iraq?
NORTHAM: Gul says he wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. takes action into its own hands and launches a set of surgical strikes on suspected militant bases. Some here said that has already happened.
Jackie Northam, NPR News, Islamabad.
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