Pakistan Watches As U.S. Reviews Afghan Strategy The Obama administration's strategy review of the Afghanistan war is prompting some concern in Pakistan, which sees both opportunity and danger in a U.S. policy that would direct more operations to Pakistan. President Obama has expressed doubt about whether more U.S. troops could turn the protracted conflict into a winnable war. Some Pakistanis hear in that a prelude to a pullout.
NPR logo

Pakistan Watches As U.S. Reviews Afghan Strategy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Pakistan Watches As U.S. Reviews Afghan Strategy

Pakistan Watches As U.S. Reviews Afghan Strategy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


That strategy review is causing concern across Afghanistan's border in Pakistan. Pakistanis see both opportunity and danger in a U.S. policy that could sharpen the focus on their country.

And we have more this morning from NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad.

JULIE MCCARTHY: President Obama has expressed doubts about whether more American troops could turn the protracted conflict in Afghanistan into a winnable war. Some Pakistanis hear in that a prelude to a pullout.

Dr. PERVEZ HOODBHOY (Nuclear Physicist, Political Defense Analyst, Pakistan): I'm worried about the implications of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

MCCARTHY: Physicist and political commentator Pervez Hoodbhoy says a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would wipe out all the gains the Pakistanis have made against the militants the last several months.

Dr. HOODBHOY: If the Taliban in Afghanistan gets strong, the Taliban in Pakistan gets strong, this encouragement will enable them to extend their influence into the cities. We are then in for suicide bombings, for the end of girls' education in larger parts of the country, and that's going to be a disaster.

MCCARTHY: An even bigger disaster, according to retired General Talat Masood, would be a move by the United States to unilaterally broaden its strikes against Afghan Taliban leaders inside Pakistan.

An unconfirmed report in The Sunday Times of London says the U.S. has threatened to extend airstrikes to the city of Quetta, the capital of the southern province of Baluchistan, where U.S. officials believe the Taliban leadership is based.

General TALAT MASOOD (Retired Pakistan Army Officer): I think there are very serious implications of any violation of the Baluchistan territory by the United States in pursuit of Taliban or anyone. I think that has to be left to the Pakistani military. And they should try to develop confidence between the two militaries so that they can take action.

MCCARTHY: Earlier this year, there was optimism that Pakistan was more aggressively battling its home-grown Taliban when the Pakistani army took the fight to the militants in Swat Valley.

Yet, U.S. officials remain suspicious that elements inside Pakistan's intelligence and defense agencies secretly support Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and others known collectively as the Quetta Shura.

But Retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah says it's absurd to think that the leaders of the Afghan Taliban are still clustered in Quetta eight years after the start of the Afghan war. He says trying to locate them there if futile.

Brigadier MAHMOOD SHAH (Retired Pakistan Army Officer): It's like a man looking for a black cat in a dark room on a dark night. And the problem is that the cat is not there.

MCCARTHY: Talat Masood says that Pakistan's military establishment was perhaps not as eager to find and arrest the Taliban high command as the Americans would have liked.

Gen. MASOOD: I think what one has to understand is that Pakistan is taking a long-term view and saying that these elements in Afghanistan are not going to go away. And we had to live with them. And we cannot open a broad front against all the hostile forces that are operating against America for the sake of America. It is for the Americans to adjust their policies and not scapegoat Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan.

MCCARTHY: Mahmood Shah argues for more U.S. military aid to Pakistan, particularly the U.S. Predator drones. The Americans have deployed the unmanned aircraft in dozens of attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida targets inside Pakistan over the past couple of years.

Their use deeply angered the Pakistani public, which views them as a violation of sovereignty. But criticism became more muted this summer following a U.S. drone attack that killed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who had dispatched suicide bombers across Pakistan.

Mahmood Shah says having access to the unmanned predator drones would better enable the Pakistani military to fight the militants on their own soil.

Brigadier SHAH: If there is a certain portion of drones under the Pakistan army, then this war can be very effectively fought and won. That is the only formula.

MCCARTHY: Mahmood Shah warns that any escalation in U.S. drones attacks over Pakistan would only worsen America's image here.

Brigadier SHAH: If the Americans insist on activities doing by themselves, they are moving in the wrong direction. And the results really cannot be even foreseen.

MCCARTHY: Shah says that the United States would end up creating more problems than the ones it's trying to treat.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.