SCOTT SIMON, host: Since 2001, Islamist extremism fueled by the war in Afghanistan has deeply affected Pakistan. Thirty-five thousand Pakistanis, 30,000 of them civilians, have lost their lives in the decade of fighting. With an end to the conflict slowly coming into view. NPR's Julie McCarthy examines how Pakistan perceives the end game, and how mutual U.S. - Pakistan distrust may influence it.
JULIE MCCARTHY: For all of their mutual suspicions, the Americans and Pakistanis seem to agree on one thing: both need a durable peace in Afghanistan. The U.S. to staunch a hemorrhage of blood and treasure. Pakistan to stop extremism from spilling across the border and further radicalizing the country. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua says without peace Afghanistan, Pakistan's tumultuous decade could go on indefinitely.
TEHMINA JANJUA: Pakistan wishes to see in the endgame in Afghanistan a peaceful, prosperous, unified, sovereign and independent Afghanistan, where the people of Afghanistan can determine their destiny according to their own wishes.
MCCARTHY: Despite what sounds like a hands-off policy, Pakistan has a clear preference among the warring parties: the Afghan Taliban. Pakistani intelligence nurtured the Taliban in the 1990s and, analysts say, maintains deep ties with Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar and his allies in the Haqqani network. Many of the key militant leaders operate from sanctuaries inside Pakistan. So, analyst Ayesha Siddiqa says, Pakistan has leverage over the Afghan Taliban that could bring them to peace talks.
AYESHA SIDDIQA: I think the basic thing is that if you are protecting them, if you are keeping them, if you are allowing them in your territory, then there has got to be that kind of influence.
MCCARTHY: Siddiqa says the endgame for Pakistan is to ensure that it has someone in Kabul, like the Taliban, who shares its religious orthodoxy and world view. Defense analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi, however, doubts that Pakistan could easily prevail upon the Taliban. He says its leaders felt betrayed after former President Pervez Musharraf signed up to the Bush administration's war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11. In addition, he says, the Taliban could dominate Kabul when the war is over, which is potential trouble for Pakistan.
HASAN-ASKARI RIZVI: Because that means their counterparts in Pakistan will become strong. The whole tribal area and Afghanistan will become one Taliban territory, and that is a scary scenario for Pakistan.
MCCARTHY: Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace, agrees that Pakistan does not want the Taliban back in power exclusively, but would like to see them return in a power-sharing arrangement.
MOEED YUSUF: The Taliban, the Mullah Omar group and the Haqqani network still provide leverage for Pakistan in a reconciliation scenario. This is the friendliest option Pakistan has.
MCCARTHY: But there is another perennial concern, archrival India, and its close relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. According to a report jointly complied by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute, Pakistan's policy elite is concerned that India's present engagement in Afghanistan goes beyond development aid and is aimed at influencing the endgame.
Former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan says a growing nexus between India and the U.S. has given Delhi an ascendant position in Afghanistan.
SHAMSHAD AHMED KHAN: Which equips it with a tremendous, an enormous nuisance potential against Pakistan security.
MCCARTHY: There is also concern in Pakistan over the U.S. preserving a security presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the deadline to pull out most if not all U.S. combat troops. Retired brigadier Javed Hussain says retaining U.S. military bases could scuttle any long-term peace.
JAVED HUSSAIN: These bases will come under attack. The al-Qaida will join the Taliban again, and the Americans will be forced on the defensive.
MCCARTHY: Dealing with the U.S. in an Afghan endgame may be the most difficult issue of all for Pakistan. The U.S. covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad has deepened mutual distrust and suspicion. But Ayesha Siddiqa says, the closer the U.S. gets to the time of departure, the better positioned Pakistan may be in the endgame.
SIDDIQA: When the American back is to the wall proverbially, and it's eager to find a way out to bring the boys home, it doesn't make Pakistan irrelevant at all.
MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.
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