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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Today's suicide attack outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan brought attention to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was on the base. He wasn't hurt. A reporter traveling with the vice president told NPR of his reaction to the blast.

Mr. MARK SILVA (Reporter, Chicago Tribune): He said, and we spoke to him on his airplane - his military transport coming out of Kabul, that he had been in his room at the base a little after 10 a.m. local time and heard what he described as, quote, "a loud boom."

MONTAGNE: That's Mark Silva, White House correspondent for the Chicago Tribune traveling with Vice President Cheney.

Cheney's trip to Afghanistan follows a visit to neighboring Pakistan. That visit underscores growing concern in Washington about the resurgence of al-Qaida and the Taliban, and growing determination to pressure Pakistan to crack down on them.

NPR's intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly joins us now. Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with the message that Mr. Cheney delivered there in Pakistan. It sounds like it was more sticks than carrots.

KELLY: That does appear to be the case. Now neither Mr. Cheney nor the White House have said exactly what was put on the table in his lunch meeting with President Musharraf yesterday in Pakistan. But clearly there is deep concern about a spring offensive by the Taliban, by al-Qaida-linked forces in Afghanistan, and it appears that Cheney was sent to deliver a serious message to the Pakistanis.

The message being they need to get their act together, they need to become far more aggressive and consistent in disrupting militant activities on their side of the border, or else risk losing possibly what amounts to a very considerable aid package from the United States.

MONTAGNE: Considerable meaning hundreds of millions of dollars.

KELLY: Billions of dollars, in fact, that the U.S. has given since September 11th. The House has recently passed a measure linking continued military aid to performance in the war on terror. Linking Pakistan's continued military aid precisely to this issue. We don't know yet how this will all play out in the Senate. We do know that it's certainly proving convenient for the Bush administration to be able to brandish the newly Democratic Congress here in the United States as the bad cop, as it were, in the negotiations with Islamabad.

MONTAGNE: And what's driving the timing of this push to get Pakistan to step up counterterrorism efforts. It's an ongoing issue.

KELLY: Yeah, a number of factors. But specifically right now it's the weather. Every year we know the fighting gets worse in Afghanistan as the snow melts. That's going to happen soon. Spring is coming

I spoke yesterday with a former senior official in the Bush administration and he told me I think right now they are scared. The administration realizes they run the risk of losing perhaps two wars at once with Iraq and Afghanistan. And that if something dramatic does not change by the end of this year, by the end of 2007, you could perhaps see the Taliban effectively in control of much of Afghanistan if things keep going as they have been.

Unless you see this push, to strongly urge Pakistan to do everything it can to stop militants crossing the border, to deny the Taliban and al-Qaida the safe haven they appear to have developed inside Pakistan's borders.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. doesn't want to push too hard, though.

KELLY: That's right. The U.S. does not want to push so hard so that they risk toppling President Musharraf's government. And President Musharraf is dealing with elections this year. He is dealing with a population in which anti-U.S. sentiment is running very high. U.S. officials are very sensitive to that political tightrope that's he's walking.

But at the same time, you hear the rhetoric. It goes in cycles. But it has been pretty tough, the line has been you're with us or against us in the war on terror. And what you'll see playing out is the reflection of a very complicated partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan. Pakistan is at once a key ally and also a country that may be providing safe haven to the worst enemy of the United States, al-Qaida.

MONTAGNE: Mary Louise, thanks very much. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

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