Pakistan: Friend Or Foe In Fight Against Terrorism?
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington. Neal Conan is away.
Osama bin Laden's choice of Pakistan for a hideout, in a large compound less than an hour's drive from the capital, raises any number of questions, such as: What, if anything, did Pakistan's government know? Are they playing both sides? And is Pakistan a reliable U.S. ally worthy of billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid?
During a visit to Paris today, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called the 10-year search for bin Laden, and I quote, an intelligence failure of the whole world and not Pakistan alone.
Still, Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the Intelligence Committee, complained yesterday that Pakistan's record is mixed at best.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): The Pakistanis, John Brennan said this very clearly, have been good at going after some terrorists. On the other hand, they have give the Haqqani Network protection and put them off-limits to the United States Predator effort. So they have very subtly walked both sides of the street.
KELLY: That's Senator Dianne Feinstein speaking at a news conference yesterday here in Washington. Well, if you've worked for the U.S. government on these issues, the question is: Is Pakistan doing enough? And do we need them?
Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join the conversation on our website too. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, the decision not to release photos of bin Laden's dead body. But first to Pakistan, and we're joined now by Mark Quarterman. He's a senior adviser and director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's on the line now from Princeton, New Jersey. Welcome, Mark Quarterman.
Mr. MARK QUARTERMAN (Center for Strategic and International Studies): Happy to be with you.
KELLY: So you heard that tape there from Senator Dianne Feinstein talking about Pakistanis walking both sides of the street. Does she have a point?
Mr. QUARTERMAN: She does have a point. There are joint interests that the United States and Pakistan have that they have worked together on fairly well.
As she pointed out, Pakistan has gone after a number of terrorist groups and sent its troops into the - into tribal areas and taken a number of casualties doing that to confront terrorist groups.
Pakistan is also a major supply line, provides a major supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan. But the interests differ on other issues.
There are certain groups that it's very clear the Pakistanis don't want to go after. The Haqqani Network and other aspects of the Afghanistan Taliban is one. Jihadi groups that operate in the Punjab and often in Kashmir are others.
And the U.S. is very frustrated with that. At the same time, the Pakistanis remain - continue to have these relationships with the Haqqani Network and others in Afghanistan because they don't expect the U.S. to be around forever in Afghanistan, and those are their allies against what they see as a creeping a Indian influence in Afghanistan.
KELLY: Uh-huh. Well, and let me put the question to you that of course everyone seems to be asking these last couple of days, which is: Is it possible that bin Laden could have been hiding in this house, not so terribly far from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, for a period of years - we're not sure exactly when he got there, but it may have been as far back as 2005 - is it possible he would have been able to do that without some sort of support, some sort of protection from somewhere in Pakistan's security establishment?
Mr. QUARTERMAN: It's very hard to believe, given the way Pakistan is organized, with a very powerful military and military intelligence structure that monitors a number of aspects of Pakistani society, that the building of this - and that he possibly started living there under the military dictatorship of General Musharraf - that the military and intelligence structures didn't know about this.
If they didn't know about it, then there are real questions of competence that need to be asked. If they did know about it and didn't inform the U.S. right away, then there are serious questions about the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan on the issue of combating terrorism, and trust I mean this is an understatement - that need to be asked.
KELLY: Okay, we're talking now with Mark Quarterman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And we also are joined on the line from Paris by Rashed Rahman. He is the editor of The Daily Times, which is one of Pakistan's major English-language newspapers. Rashed Rahman, are you there?
Mr. RASHED RAHMAN (Editor, The Daily Times): I'm there.
KELLY: Hi, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. RAHMAN: You're welcome.
KELLY: Now, I gather you are on the phone, as I mentioned, from Paris. And you're in Paris because you're traveling with Pakistan's prime minister, Prime Minister Gilani. Tell us a little bit about why he is there, what kind of message he is trying to get across on this visit to Europe.
Mr. RAHMAN: Well, it is pure coincidence that the Osama event has kind of overshadowed this visit, which was obviously planned long before. Essentially, the agenda was economic cooperation and inviting French business to invest further in Pakistan.
France has some 30 companies working in Pakistan already, and there was a meeting this morning in which a memorandum of understanding between the two business councils of the two countries has been signed, and they are intending to take this cooperation further.
There's also been some discussion, according to the prime minister, with President Sarkozy on the issue of security cooperation because the prime minister made the case that whereas we are committed to fighting terrorism, we do lack capacity, and we need help in that area.
So basically the two major items on the agenda were economic cooperation, security cooperation, and what has not been revealed, even by the prime minister, perhaps, some discussion on possible defense purchases from France.
KELLY: Rashed Rahman, let me ask a little bit what your sense is as you travel with Prime Minister Gilani. There has been some, I think, confusion, it's safe to say, here in the U.S. over what exactly the Pakistani position is.
On the one hand, we have heard from Pakistani officials saying -claiming some credit for helping with some of the intelligence gathering that may have led ultimately to bin Laden, on the other hand expressing outrage at violation of Pakistan's sovereign territory, at the U.S. audacity, as they see it, of coming into the country and carrying out this operation without coordinating in advance.
What is your sense of how Pakistan's government is trying to position itself as these events play out?
Mr. RAHMAN: Well, frankly, I think the confusion is universal - if you look at the way the Obama administration initially stated, and the president himself stated, and Secretary Clinton stated, in reasonably clear terms that they were, you know, happy with Pakistan's cooperation, intelligence sharing and so on, and that all these efforts had led to placing Osama and finally his killing.
But then, you know, we have Leon Panetta coming on and saying that, you know, the reason why we didn't share the operational details with Pakistan is because we were afraid of a leak.
I think that could have been better put. For example, if he had said that just as very few in the administration knew about the operation and its details, similarly, for security reasons, none of our allies, including Pakistan, were told about it. That would have put a different spin on it.
As it is, I think that statement has ruffled a few feathers in Pakistan, and our foreign secretary has come out with a statement attempting to defend Pakistan, its record in the war on terror, its cooperation in the war on terror, and as you say, claiming credit for the eventual discovery of Osama bin Laden and his elimination.
KELLY: We're talking about...
Mr. RAHMAN: On the other hand, we have had questions here from our prime minister in Paris, from the French media, whether, you know, the kind of (unintelligible) that they see between the U.S. and Pakistan overtaking what has already been a troubled and some say mistrustful relationship, whether this might lead to a gulf between the two or even a breakdown of the relationship.
He kept referring to President Obama's first declaration, in which he had appreciated Pakistan's cooperation, and decided to leave it at that. He has also been questioned whether this isn't a massive intelligence failure on Pakistan's part, which his reply was: Well, if it is, then it's a massive intelligence failure of the world as a whole, not just Pakistan.
KELLY: Right, okay, we're talking about Pakistan. Is Pakistan doing enough? And do we need them? You can join the conversation. Call us at 800-989-8255. Email us at email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Rashed Rahman, one more quick question for you, which is: How is this playing in Pakistan? We've been talking about the official reaction. What about people on the street? What has been the reaction there to news that Pakistan was, in fact, hiding all these years, as the U.S. had alleged, inside Pakistan?
Mr. RAHMAN: Well, initially the response was more or less along the expected lines. Those who are opposed to this kind of religious extremist jihadism were on one side, and those who supported were on the other. And there was a considerable number in between, whose response was, shall we say, unknown or unexpressed.
Now what we are seeing is that in the vicinity of Abbottabad, where this hideout was, people are very skeptical. They are disbelieving the version that has been put out. They say it may be just a ruse. It may be that this was not Obama(ph) at all and so on and so forth.
We have also had some response from the religious right. They have held funeral prayers in absentia for Osama in Multan, and there have been small demonstrations by students with the usual accompaniment of burning of U.S. flags and slogans against the U.S.
So anti-U.S. sentiment is there on the margins, and we have had this manifestation of considering Osama, shall we say, a hero. But on the other hand, I think all those who are opposed to extremism probably have breathed a sigh of relief, but it is not being expressed as openly as the extreme right is expressing it.
KELLY: Okay, that's Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times. He's going to stay with us. We're also talking with Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They're staying with us. We hope you will too.
We're talking about Pakistan. Is Pakistan doing enough? Do we need them? Much more coming up after the break. I'm Mary Louise Kelly, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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KELLY: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington.
We're talking today about Pakistan and the questions raised by the weekend raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The world's most-wanted terrorist hid, in many ways, in plain sight, next to a top military academy, less than an hour's drive from the capital, Islamabad.
Now, many want to know what, if anything, Pakistan's government knew, and some in Congress want to cut off billions of dollars in foreign aid. If you've worked these issues for the U.S. government, the questions are: Is Pakistan doing enough? And do we, the U.S. need them?
Our number is 800-989-8255. You can email us, we're at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We have two guests with us today. Mark Quarterman, who is an expert on Pakistan and has served as chief of staff of the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto - he's on the line from Princeton, New Jersey. Welcome back, Mark.
Mr. QUARTERMAN: Good to be back with you.
KELLY: And we also have Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, which is one of Pakistan's major English-language newspapers. He's on the phone from Paris. Welcome back to you, sir.
Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you.
KELLY: Let me bring a caller into our conversation. This is Assad(ph). He is on the line from Lakewood, Ohio. Assad, you're on the air.
ASSAD (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I'm glad that you have a Pakistani commentator there, as well.
For me, the issue is that while it's obviously embarrassing that he was caught there in Abbottabad, close to Kakul Academy and all that, but the things that they - that are being said that sort of imply complicity of the Pakistani government, that kind of gets me a bit, because like they talk about size and thickness of the walls, which are not necessarily that unusual for wealthy people in Pakistan.
And the U.S. has this house - seems to have had it under surveillance for six months, and they still never actually saw bin Laden. They were only talking about possibly a 60 to 80 percent possibility of him being there.
And at least one article I read today suggested that he may have moved in there during the time that the earthquake had hit in the north. Obviously there was a lot of other distraction going on at that time.
So, you know, as I said, embarrassing, but a lot of things don't really seem to imply complicity.
KELLY: Mark Quarterman, let me let you respond to that one, this question of we shouldn't be too quick to leap to conclusions about what Pakistani officials may have known.
Mr. QUARTERMAN: I think that's absolutely right. We don't have all the facts. And so we shouldn't leap to conclusions. But we should we should ask ourselves about the question, if they didn't know about it, the building of this house with - that in some ways was - appears to be very different from the surrounding houses and from other houses in Abbottabad, not far from the military academy, in a town in which a number of retired military officers live, not too far from the capital -whether that should have raised any alarm bells or at least inquiries.
And also just given the nature of the work of the security agencies in Pakistan and their monitoring of activities, one wonders whether anyone could have come across this.
It could entirely be an oversight. And maybe we only have competence questions to ask. But given that the relationship is tense, and given that there are frustrations on both of the - the part of the U.S. government but also the Pakistani government with each other, this certainly doesn't make the relations any easier and should raise questions of how to move forward given the difficulty we find ourselves in.
But I should say: Pakistan and the U.S. have very strong reasons to continue a close relationship.
KELLY: All right, Assad, thanks very much for your call there. We appreciate it.
ASSAD: Thank you.
KELLY: An editorial that I want to read to both of you gentlemen and let you respond to this is the president of Pakistan, President Zardari, writing in the Washington Post today, a headline titled "Pakistan Did Its Part."
And President Zardari writes: Let us be frank. Pakistan has paid an enormous price for its stand against terrorism. More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO's casualties combined. Two thousand police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians, and a generation of social progress for our people has been lost.
And President Zardari writes: And for me, justice against bin Laden was not just political, it was also personal, as the terrorist murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children. Twice he tried to assassinate my wife. In 1989 he poured $50 million into a no-confidence vote to topple her first government. She said that she was bin Laden's worst nightmare: a democratically elected, progressive, moderate, pluralist female leader. She was right, and she paid with it with her -and she paid for it with her life.
President Zardari goes on and says: Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing.
Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan's war as it is America's.
Again, that's President Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan, writing today in the Washington Post. Rashed Rahman, let me hear your response to that. President Zardari has not been overwhelmingly popular in Pakistan. Do sentiments like that resonate in the country?
Mr. RAHMAN: Well, let me put this in context, if you will allow me a few minutes. You know, after 9/11, Musharraf adopted a duality of policy, which was basically to go after al-Qaeda, and when captured their operatives were handed over to the United States, many of them sent to Guantanamo Bay, and some killed.
On the other hand, the (unintelligible) Taliban were protected, given safe havens when they fled from Afghanistan on Pakistani soil from where they have been operating all these years against the U.S. and NATO and (unintelligible) army forces across the border.
So if you consider that despite the fact that the military still runs, for all intents and purposes (unintelligible) policy and security and defense-related policies, and I don't think the democratically elected government has as much influence over those policies as should be the case, it would be logical to assume that the military did not have an interest in protecting al-Qaeda or its leader, Osama bin Laden.
KELLY: But let me press you...
Mr. RAHMAN: If Pakistan...
KELLY: Let me press you, sir, if I may on the specific point, that the war on terrorism is as much Pakistan's war as it is America's. Do you think the average Pakistani believes that?
Mr. RAHMAN: Well, a lot of Pakistanis don't believe that, but I think those of the right-thinking persuasion understand, particularly after 2007, in the (unintelligible) operation, when we had the growth of a domestic terrorism group called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, it has become our war, whether we like it or not, and despite, as I said, this duality of policy, which in my view persists.
Now, my issue is this. The Pakistani authorities are saying, are claiming, and to some extent the American authorities are acknowledging, that there was sharing of intelligence about this hideout some years, you know, in the past.
So the question is - and they are defending their so-called incompetence, or as some critics are alleging complicity, by saying that they did not have the technical means that the U.S. possesses to actually determine whether Osama was there or not.
And you know, despite all the reports, it's not certain how long he was there, whether he was there permanently, whether he came and went. All these are unknowns.
So I think my assessment is that if we accept the Pakistani authorities' claim, which has been backed up by the U.S. authorities, that they were sharing intelligence or at least suspicion about this hideout but without necessarily being able to determine without any shadow of doubt that it was Osama bin Laden who was staying there or at least coming and going there, then I think the point here is that the Americans may have, through their superior technical and intelligence means, determined that it was indeed him.
We are told that they were 80 percent sure before they launched the operation. So I think, you know, we must put this in perceptive and also understand the stakes for both sides in a continuation of this relationship.
You asked the question, when you lead in the program, whether you need Pakistan. In my view you do because if the withdrawal from Afghanistan is to not end in a fiasco, then obviously Pakistan's role is important.
KELLY: Okay, okay.
Mr. RAHMAN: A political settlement is the only way to do that.
MR. RAHMAN: And the Pakistani intelligence agencies will have to be involved.
KELLY: We're talking Pakistan, whether the U.S. needs Pakistan, whether Pakistan is doing enough in the fight against terrorism. And we're talking here on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Let's bring another caller in here. This is Bob, on the line from Moultrie, Georgia. Bob, you're on the air.
BOB (Caller): I have a question - how much Pakistan knew, didn't know, I don't know that it's all that relevant, in that the United States needs the cooperation of Pakistan. It's my understanding that with 130,000 troops in Afghanistan, it is then impossible to resupply them by air. We must have a overland supply route and that goes through Pakistan, and maybe you just have to take whatever cooperation you get from them. But if they close that line down, don't those troops have to come out?
BOB: Isn't it impossible to keep them there and resupply them if there is no cooperation with Pakistan?
KELLY: Mark Quarterman, let me let you respond to this. Bob, our caller from Moultrie, talking about there are 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, many more non-American NATO troops and other countries fighting there, and the major supply lines go through Pakistan. That's a good reason. We need them.
Mr. QUARTERMAN: I think Pakistan and the U.S. are tied together. The supply lines are an important issue, at least until recently, Pakistan's willingness to allow the U.S. to carry out large numbers of drone strikes in Pakistan as well. There are - any range of issues on which the U.S. and Pakistan cooperate very effectively. But there has been stated U.S. frustration with a lack of Pakistani cooperation on going after certain groups. I mean, we can't talk about the struggle against terror and blanket all the groups and say that as - and assume that that cooperation between the two countries has been equal as regards all groups.
I think one of the reasons why there has been reported - and this is reported both on the Pakistani and U.S. side - dramatic increase in the number of CIA operatives on the ground is because of a certain frustration with the lack of Pakistani cooperation going against certain organizations. So I think that, overall, the relationship is extremely important.
The U.S. officials have been very careful, especially President Obama, in his statement. He didn't go as far as to say, Pakistani cooperation or our partnership with Pakistan led us to this. He thanked the Pakistanis for cooperation and then expressed in a very general sense that led us to this point. Other U.S. officials, the White House terror advisor and Leon Panetta, have been a bit more blunt about the - either not consulting the Pakistanis or the lack of cooperation from the Pakistanis on this.
So it's a troubled relationship. It's a relationship that is extremely difficult and where there are frustrations on both sides. But it's an extremely important, if not essential, relationship for both countries.
KELLY: All right. Thanks very much to you, Bob, for calling in from Moultrie, Georgia. We appreciate it.
And let me ask you, Mark Quarterman, about one specific aspect of the relationship and some of the frustrations felt here on the U.S. side. There have been calls this week from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to suspend U.S. aid immediately. I saw, for example, Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, who, this week, said, quote, "before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism."
What do you make of this? How seriously debated do you think this will be, whether to rein in or in some - or perhaps even suspend aid to Pakistan?
Mr. QUARTERMAN: I think the administration would probably not favor this, a precipitous cut of U.S. assistance to Pakistan. I have a feeling that, for one thing, there's really a need to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and what Pakistan knew regarding Osama bin Laden's whereabouts in Abbottabad. But secondly, as I was saying, the relationship is extremely important to the United States for the reasons that your last caller said and for many other reasons.
There are also ongoing negotiations over other issues. You might recall that a few weeks ago, Pakistan demanded that the United States stop all drone strikes, and I think that there are discussions ongoing between the two countries over that. The reason they - one of the reasons they did that was because of the Raymond Davis affair, in which a CIA contractor killed two Pakistanis some months ago. The U.S. said that he had diplomatic immunity and demanded that he be released right away. And Pakistan took sometime before agreeing to that.
So it's a troubled relationship, but it's an essential relationship. I am not sure how much traction a step like that would get on Capitol Hill.
KELLY: We have listeners writing in with questions about Pakistan, and I want to throw one of those questions to you, Rashed Rahman. This is from Kate(ph) in Portland, Oregon. And Kate writes: A better question might be: Do they need us? We've been asking, do we, the U.S., need Pakistan? Does Pakistan need the U.S.?
Rashed Rahman, what would Pakistan like to see changed, improved? What is it that you all want from the relationship with the United States?
Mr. RAHMAN: First, let me just say, the reason why the United States is - has been persuaded to aid Pakistan - and I think Senator Kerry has led the way in that - is because they understand that if Pakistan's economy goes into a tailspin, poverty increases. That provides much more fertile soil for the growth of terrorism on Pakistani soil. And that could link up with other forms of terrorism, whether across the border or in the region as a whole, and creates a bigger mess than we are in already.
So, in a sense, the aid has been there in order to nudge Pakistan towards greater cooperation. Whether it has worked or not is a debate that is ongoing. But certainly, I agree with Mr. Quarterman that any precipitous act in a rush of blood would really bring things to a - to the precipice. Does Pakistan need the United States? Of course it does.
KELLY: And we just have a few seconds left.
Mr. RAHMAN: It needs economic aid. Sorry?
KELLY: We just have a few seconds left, if you could be brief.
Mr. RAHMAN: OK, very quickly. It needs economic aid. The military needs weapons. This is an old relationship. And despite its flaws and irritations, both sides do need each other. This is a symbiotic relationship. They're joined at the hip. They have to live together no matter how difficult it is.
KELLY: All right. Thank you so much. We have been speaking with Rashed Rahman, on the line from Paris. He is the editor of one of Pakistan's biggest English language newspapers, The Daily Times. Thank you to you, sir.
Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you.
KELLY: And we've also been speaking with Mark Quarterman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was on the line from Princeton, New Jersey. Thanks so much, Mark.
Mr. QUARTERMAN: Thank you very much.
KELLY: Up next, we'll look at the decision not to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's body. What do you think of that decision?
I'm Mary Louise Kelly. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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