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The View From Islamabad After U.N. Rejects Trump's Jerusalem Policy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to reject President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The president warned that he might cut off money to countries that voted in favor of that resolution, but that did not stop 128 countries from voting for it. Pakistan was a co-sponsor of that resolution, and it's also a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid. So what comes next? NPR's Diaa Hadeed joins us from Islamabad. Hey, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What are the Pakistanis saying? What reason did they give for defying President Trump on this?

HADID: Right. The first one is religious. Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, and for Muslims, it's the location of its third-holiest shrine. So there is a consensus among Muslim-majority countries that Palestinians should have some sovereignty in the capital, and that's not something that Pakistan will give up so easily. That was said as much by Faisal Khan (ph), who's the spokesperson for the foreign ministry here.

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FORIEGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON FAISAL KHAN: Pakistan and the people living here are - majority is Muslims, and they have always espoused the cause of - the causes of Muslim Ummah, and Jerusalem is one of the principal causes.

MARTIN: So they're standing with Palestinians on this issue. But Pakistan went a step further. They could have just voted in favor of this thing, but they actually co-sponsored this measure.

HADID: Right.

MARTIN: Why?

HADID: So I spoke to some analysts here this morning, and they say this is about the government playing to its domestic base. There's general elections that are expected in the next few months.

MARTIN: Ah.

HADID: And one of the - yeah - and one of the key voting blocs they have to appeal to are right-wing religious voters. So this makes them look more forceful on this issue.

MARTIN: So this is them standing up to U.S. government, to President Trump. That plays well with a domestic audience.

HADID: Right. And in terms of just standing up to the United States, that goes beyond just, like, right-wing religious voters. That's just about every Pakistani you speak to. There's - you know, relations haven't been good between Pakistan and the United States. But there's a sense that it's been worsening under the Trump administration. Consider that Vice President Mike Pence castigated Pakistan on a surprise visit to the Bagram air base in Kabul. Just have a listen to what he said.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You know, for too long, Pakistan has provided safe haven to the Taliban and many terrorist organizations, but those days are over.

MARTIN: So he was speaking there just hours after this U.N. vote, right?

HADID: Right. And even though those are long-standing accusations, which Pakistan does deny, it's the tone that many Pakistanis find so offensive. And so this vote was a really easy way for the government to show that it's standing up to what many Pakistanis see as American bullying.

MARTIN: An aside here, but we should note, Afghanistan also voted against the U.S. in this U.N. resolution. Afghanistan clearly gets billions of dollars in U.S. aid. So - but getting back to Pakistan, is this - clearly, it's a poke in the eye, but is it worth risking U.S. aid here? I mean, what if President Trump makes good on this threat and pulls aid from Pakistan?

HADID: Well, I mean, here's the thing, is like, you know, the United States and Pakistan might not like each other, but they need each other. Even though the government - you know, Washington accuses Pakistan of harboring militant groups. Pakistan also serves as a vital air corridor for the United States. It's - all the - you know, American troops and American military supplies are flown over Pakistan into Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Right.

HADID: So the United States also needs this country, you know, and in return for those services, the United States pays about $350 million a year. So that's not something that either side can cut off so easily.

MARTIN: So what's the next move here by Pakistan?

HADID: It's not clear. I spoke this morning to - I mean, on either side. I spoke this morning to a U.S. official at the embassy and, you know, to Pakistani officials, and everyone says they're now, you know, watching and waiting for more instructions.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting from Islamabad. Thanks so much, Diaa.

HADID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.