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Pakistan’s Role in Fighting Terror Under Review

October 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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Pakistan affirmed its resolve to continue fighting al-Qaida and also providing enforcements for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JIM LEHRER: Pakistan’s role in fighting terror was a prime topic today, both in Pakistan and at the White House. There were also complaints from some Pakistanis about American meddling.

Judy Woodruff begins our lead story report.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Assorted complaints from Pakistan came as their troops readied the latest in a series of offensives this year against the Taliban and al-Qaida. It could be the most important operation yet: targeting South Waziristan, the major base for thousands of militants on the Afghan border.

But as the troops prepare, Pakistani military leaders meeting in Rawalpindi voiced serious concern about an aid bill approved by the U.S. Congress. The bill was sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar and still awaits President Obama’s signature.

It includes $7.5 billion over the next five years mostly for democratic, economic and social development programs. But military aid could be withheld if the U.S. deems the Pakistanis are not doing enough to fight terrorists.

A number of opposition lawmakers in Pakistan’s parliament joined the military’s objections, saying the aid amounts to intrusion in their affairs. In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly defended U.S. intentions in offering the aid.

IAN KELLY: We see it as a means for helping Pakistan meet this common threat to our two societies. And the reason we say a partnership is because a modern and effective Pakistani military is in our interests, as well as Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At a forum in Washington, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, expressed thanks for the aid and played down criticism back in his country. But he also said the U.S. has to trust Pakistan more as a partner.

SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI: If you keep doubting our intentions and we keep doubting your intentions, then where is this partnership going? We have come — this government has come to — you know, to add a new chapter of our relationship, a long-term partnership with the United States that supports democracy, that supports, you know, freedom of expression, that supports, you know, investment in people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, at the Pentagon, spokesman Geoff Morrell paid tribute to what the Pakistanis have accomplished since their initial offensive last spring.

GEOFF MORRELL: The results that the Pakistani military are having on the ground, particularly in the Swat Valley and in their operations in Waziristan, are proof of the fact that they have a renewed commitment and focus and capability in dealing with the threats within their midst.

JUDY WOODRUFF: This afternoon’s White House security session focused in part on that Pakistani commitment, as President Obama reconsiders U.S. strategy in the region.

JIM LEHRER: Margaret Warner has more.

Progress in Pakistan

David Ignatius
Washington Post
The Pakistanis have gotten serious about their security, and the place feels different than it did a few months ago.

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the situation in Pakistan, we turn to David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist who just returned from a reporting trip there; and Christine Fair, assistant professor in the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. She's written extensively about Pakistan.

Welcome to you both. Welcome back to you both.

So Pakistan is such an important part of this whole Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy the president is reassessing. How is the Pakistan side of the equation going from the U.S. perspective, David?

DAVID IGNATIUS, The Washington Post: Well, the first thing I'd say is that, compared to six months ago -- I was last in Pakistan in April -- the situation is significantly better. In April, the Taliban was growing in strength, in particular in the Swat Valley, which is 100-odd kilometers from Islamabad. The Pakistani military was unsure of how to deal with this problem. You had a sense of a country that just wasn't dealing with an internal threat.

In May, finally, the army decided to stop making peace deals that weren't working and to go in, in a tough way militarily, and swept up the valley, and that counterinsurgency effort seemed to me -- I was in the Swat Valley and saw the lower southern end -- seemed to me to have been successful.

The Taliban had been chased away certainly. People are back. The refugees who left have for the most part come back. And you had a sense of a place that's becoming secure again. So the Pakistanis have gotten serious about their security, and the place feels different than it did a few months ago.

A big test is coming maybe as early as next week, as the Pakistanis consider an offensive against the Taliban and al-Qaida in South Waziristan.

MARGARET WARNER: Which Judy mentioned.

DAVID IGNATIUS: I was also there. I had an interesting trip in that I was flown by the Pakistani military in a little two-seater plane into South Waziristan and had a chance to see the layout on the ground. That's going to be a tougher fight.

But, again, the point I'd make is the Pakistani military with public support does seem to be stepping up to this challenge more and really taking it to the Taliban for a change.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Christine Fair, the other part of this equation in Pakistan was supposed to be that the government also got more serious about providing basic social, and development, and economic welfare for their own people. Has that improved now under a civilian-elected government?

With success comes disappointment

Christine Fair
Georgetown University
We're all captivated by the successes that the Pakistanis have made in dealing with the so-called Pakistan Taliban, but with respect to the effort in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban...remains very much safe in the sanctuaries in Pakistan.

CHRISTINE FAIR, Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University: Well, I think the short answer is no. I mean, this is -- I have a little bit different view on the Swat operations. You saw 4 million people displaced. And what you saw, the civilian government were completely ill prepared from the humanitarian crisis that emerged from that.

The other thing I'm rather dismayed by is that we're all captivated by the successes that the Pakistanis have made in dealing with the so-called Pakistan Taliban, but with respect to the effort in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban -- we're talking about Mullah Omar, for example -- remains very much safe in the sanctuaries in Pakistan. And the terrorist groups that attacked India -- like Lashkar-e-Taiba -- of course, also remain free to roam around Pakistan.

So buried in the success story that Pakistan has tackled the militants that threaten it is the very -- the much larger story that Pakistan has done nothing about those very groups that threaten us.

MARGARET WARNER: And, just briefly, the Waziristan operation? Now, if they go forward with that offensive, would you say that in that area there are Taliban who are quarterbacking the insurgency in Afghanistan?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, it depends on -- it depends on which militant you're talking about. If you actually list out who the guys are that we think are enemy combatants and who the Pakistanis think are enemy combatants, overall, it's actually very small.

In fact, some of the most vicious supporters of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan are actually allies of the Pakistani state. So we're going to have to see what they actually do in Waziristan and who they target. I'm skeptical.

MARGARET WARNER: David, that connects to the controversy that was going on in Islamabad today with the Pakistani military objecting to some of the conditions in the military aid in this package, which said, essentially, the secretary of state has to certify that they're fighting hard against the terrorists.

What -- and I know it's very hard to know this -- but what is your sense -- you met with the senior people in the intelligence agency -- whether they are still covertly, or some elements are, giving sanctuary to the Taliban?

A changing truth

David Ignatius
Washington Post
One senior official told me, "You Americans have a view of our ability to control things by pushing buttons that's years out of date." In other words, he was kind of implying that that once was true, but saying it isn't so much anymore.

DAVID IGNATIUS: ISI officials, when you talk to them, deny that they're in direct contact with these insurgent groups, but they don't deny that they have intelligence links, they have their sources in these groups.

The reality is that these groups were, in many cases, created in part by the Pakistani intelligence service. I mean, that's why we have to take their statements on this a little skeptically. These groups are their creation, and they've used them for their own security purposes now for several decades.

One senior official told me, "You Americans have a view of our ability to control things by pushing buttons that's years out of date." In other words, he was kind of implying that that once was true, but saying it isn't so much anymore.

The one thing that I would say -- and I'd be curious what Christine thinks -- I kept hearing from Pakistanis, in particular military officers, that we have come to a view that these Taliban insurgent groups threaten the country that we want to live in.

I mean, people said again and again, "I don't want my children to have to live under a Pakistani Mullah Omar. We need to deal with it. Enough is enough." I must have heard that a half-dozen times from people. They seem to me...

MARGARET WARNER: But are they ready to take on the Taliban that's running operations in Afghanistan?

DAVID IGNATIUS: We'll see. Well, you know, they worry about Afghanistan. They argue that's not our problem and, you know, they're more focused on their own security. They do say, again and again, if you think that we would be comfortable with a Taliban victory in Afghanistan, you're wrong, because we know that would, you know, strengthen people who in the long run are going to change Pakistan in ways we don't want. Should we take that seriously? I don't know.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Christine, you read all these languages. You can listen to the media and read the media over there. One, what should we make of this flap over this aid bill, in terms of the relationship between the U.S. and its partner in Pakistan? And, two, how is this very -- not protracted, but open reconsideration of strategy on the part of President Obama, how is that being read in Pakistan?

'Sense of entitlement' to U.S. aid

Christine Fair
Georgetown University
[Pakistan's] developed a sense of entitlement to our assistance. And so the very fact that eight years into this we're really fundamentally trying to alter the way in which we do business is very disconcerting for the Pakistanis.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, I think Pakistan's become very -- it's developed a sense of entitlement to our assistance. And so the very fact that eight years into this we're really fundamentally trying to alter the way in which we do business is very disconcerting for the Pakistanis.

It also illustrates how the United States can't win for losing. So we were criticized for the past seven years of supporting Musharraf, and now that this legislation explicitly tries to bolster democracy, now the Pakistan army is crying foul.

The big picture is -- and we know from Musharraf's own statements over the last week, as well as the former ambassador here, General Gilani, that the vast majority of the funds that we paid Pakistani over the last seven, eight years have completely been unaccounted for. They've gone to places where they were never supposed to have gone, like buying weapon systems to fight India, not counterinsurgency.

So there's a big difference in the way in which the American public -- and, quite frankly, our legislators -- want to give money with accountability and this absolute sense of entitlement that Pakistanis feel as if they've earned this right to have money without strings attached. And I think it's going to be very difficult to make these two ends meet. They're very different perceptions.

MARGARET WARNER: So do you think this undermines the relationship, the cooperation between the U.S. and Islamabad?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, I am not someone who's been optimistic about the nature of that cooperation to begin with. The Pakistanis cooperated very narrowly on al-Qaida. They've not cooperated on the Afghan-Taliban, Mullah Omar, for example. They have not cooperated with Lashkar-e-Taiba.

And one of the interesting problems that that state's going to confront, they can say that we don't want the Pakistan Taliban running the show, that we don't want to live in that kind of Pakistan. The problem is, is that some of the very groups they rely upon to fight in India have overlapping membership. And I'm talking, for example, Jaish-e-Mohammed. So how do you fix that?

MARGARET WARNER: And with that question, we have to leave it. Christine Fair, David Ignatius, thank you both.