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Pakistan's Role In Afghanistan Examined

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For more insight into how Pakistan figures into the Afghan dynamic, we're joined by Professor Adil Najam. He teaches International Relations at Boston University and he is founding editor of the blog All Things Pakistan.

Professor Najam, welcome to the program.

Professor ADIL NAJAM (International Relations, Boston University; Founding Editor, All Things Pakistan): Wonderful to be here.

BLOCK: President Obama last night talked about Pakistan's acceptance of extremism and I wanted to play a bit of that tape for you. Let's take a listen.

President BARACK OBAMA: In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence.

BLOCK: Explain for us first, if you could, why Pakistanis would say, we are better off cutting a deal with extremists or accommodating them.

Prof. NAJAM: I don't think Pakistanis have ever really said that. I think that's a convenient myth that we want to hold on to here. But what I think Pakistanis have said and done is try to minimize the immediate damage by this extremism.

Now, whatever happens in Afghanistan spills over in Pakistan in real-time. It's not something that's happening two continents away. This is not to say that Pakistan has no faults of its own - there are plenty. But Pakistan looks at this as imposed turbulence on top of its own turbulence.

BLOCK: You were saying that you think it's a convenient myth that Pakistanis would accept extremism or extremists within its borders. We did hear the view expressed - just now in Julie McCarthy's report - of someone denying that al-Qaida even has a safe haven in Pakistan, which seems to just fly in the face of reason.

Prof. NAJAM: It depends also on what you mean by safe haven. I mean, if the implication of a safe haven is that Pakistan as a state has somehow created an enclave where al-Qaida is allowed to do whatever it wants to do, that is absolute nonsense.

Look here. Here's the thing. In this calendar year, more than 9,000 Pakistanis have died at the hand of extremist violence. Just to give you a perspective, that is twice as many Pakistanis dying in this year, as the total number of Americans dying in Iraq in the entirety of this war. So certainly, Pakistanis have lots of reasons not to like the extremism.

Now, safe haven in the sense that there are parts of Pakistan where al-Qaida might be hiding, might be operating despite the country or because the country is not trying hard enough, that may well be so. But to assume that Pakistan as a country or Pakistan as a people is providing safe haven is, I think, unfair for a country that is doing as much dying in this war on terror as anyone else.

BLOCK: Pakistan did though turn control over those areas along the border, though, to those very same groups, didn't it?

Prof. NAJAM: It did and then it took it back. I mean, it was - the U.S. has flirted with this idea that maybe there are some good Taliban. I think both the U.S. and Pakistan have flirted with the idea that maybe there are some good Taliban and we can talk to the good Taliban. The Obama administration has. The Pakistan government did.

The lesson from Pakistan is that no, there aren't. The lesson is that after that deal didn't work, the Pakistan military is now having one of a huge operation against the Taliban.

Now, could Pakistan do more? Sure it could do more. But here is the problem with the Afghanistan-Pakistan thing: It is very convenient for the three actors to keep pointing fingers at each other. Every time Pakistan doesn't - things don't go right in Pakistan, it is convenient for Pakistan to say, ain't me. It's the Afghans.

When things don't go well in Afghanistan, they do the same, it ain't us. It's these Pakistanis who aren't doing enough. Frankly, when things don't go well for the U.S., U.S. officials do the same.

I think it's time that the three parties, who are supposedly allies, start making a joint strategy rather than playing this game of passing the buck around. And that really is the Pakistani apprehension with the announcements that the president made yesterday.

BLOCK: Professor Najam, thank you very much.

Prof. NAJAM: Thank you.

BLOCK: Professor Adil Najam is the founding editor of the blog All Things Pakistan. He teaches International Relations at Boston University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

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