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Tensions Escalate Between The U.S. And Pakistan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So is there something more than a tweet that is wrong with U.S.-Pakistan relations? Early on New Year's Day, President Trump denounced Pakistan on Twitter. He said the United States had foolishly given billions in aid, only to receive, quote, "lies and deceit." Pakistanis responded with anger and dismay. We're going to talk about all this with Najam Sethi. He's the editor-in-chief of The Friday Times. He joins us once again. He's in Islamabad.

Welcome back to the program, sir.

NAJAM SETHI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: It's good to talk with you. I got to mention, President Trump is not the first American to say something like this, is he?

SETHI: No, he isn't. But he's really upped the ante, as it were. The new year's being greeted by a barrage of tweets from him starting with North Korea, Iran, Palestine, and of course the liberal American media. And now he's added to that list of dubiously distinguished targets - is Pakistan.

But as you said, Pakistan has been under pressure from both President Obama and earlier President Bush to do more in terms of fulfilling American objectives. But Pakistan has not really fulfilled those American objectives. And I think the cause of concern and anger in the White House now is that Pakistan needs to be rapped on the knuckles for not doing what America wants it to do.

INSKEEP: What is it that Pakistan is not doing that - in your view, even - that the United States would like it to do?

SETHI: Well, you know, the thing is that Pakistan has been India-centric. Pakistan's entire national security doctrine is based on its hostile relations with India. And to that extent, it has particular interests in Afghanistan. It does not want to see Afghanistan become an Indian proxy. And so to that extent, the American, Indian and Afghan nexus is worrying for Pakistan. So Pakistan will not do anything that would undermine its so-called assets, and some of its assets are those people who are actually undermining this axis, one of which is the Haqqani network.

Now, Haqqani Network is an integral part of the Taliban resistance. Some of its leaders are said to be holed out in safe areas in Pakistan. And the Americans have been leaning on Pakistan to let go of these so-called assets or crush them or drive them out of Afghanistan. Pakistan says that some of its Taliban - those who've been creating trouble for the Pakistanis - are holed out in Afghanistan and is expecting some sort of reciprocal arrangement, whereby if the Haqqani network is ousted from Pakistan, the Afghan government and the Americans oust the Pakistani Taliban who are holed out in the northern areas of Afghanistan and are fomenting trouble and bombings and terrorism in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: So...

SETHI: So there's this sort of situation.

INSKEEP: Well, this is really interesting because you're saying that the Haqqani network is an asset to Pakistan in some sense, as it tries to keep some influence in Afghanistan across the border.

There was a New York Times story the other day about a terror suspect who had been captured by Pakistan who was associated in some way with Haqqani network. And according to The New York Times, American officials said, let us question this man, and Pakistan said no. Now, we haven't confirmed that independently, but this is what The New York Times reports. You're saying that kind of makes sense that Pakistan would refuse because they have an asset there in the Haqqani network.

SETHI: And, you know, this is power politics. It's got nothing to do with terrorism. One side in Pakistan is fomenting trouble in Afghanistan. Another side in Afghanistan is fomenting trouble in Pakistan. It's cold politics, cruel politics. People are suffering for it. If there were a quid pro quo, if there were some reciprocal movement, my sense is that both sides could actually end up getting rid of the Taliban on both sides. But that's not happening. And this will need a reciprocal, step-by-step arrangement whereby trust is built up and palpable results are achieved on both sides.

INSKEEP: Can the United States cut Pakistan loose? Do you think the U.S. could do without your country?

SETHI: Well, it's not so easy to cut it loose, as it were. Two or three reasons - first of all, America still has a significant presence in Afghanistan, and all the supply routes are through Pakistan, so it won't be easy. There was a time when the Pakistan-American relationship nosedived. The Americans had crossed over into Pakistan's border and taken out some Pakistani military post.

INSKEEP: Yeah, real problem.

SETHI: The Pakistanis retaliated by blocking all NATO supplies to Afghanistan, and that really hurt the American effort in Afghanistan. Eventually, they papered over the cracks and got back to business again. So that's one leverage that Pakistan has on the United States.

INSKEEP: If I could...

SETHI: The other leverage of - yeah.

INSKEEP: Go. No, finish, finish. Go ahead.

SETHI: Yeah, I think the other leverage is that, you know, Pakistan is a deeply troubled state. The fundamentalists are rampaging. Any destabilization of this state could create very serious difficulties for Pakistan and then, of course, for the whole region.

INSKEEP: Najam, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

SETHI: Welcome.

INSKEEP: Najam Sethi is editor of Pakistan's Friday Times and a noted broadcaster there as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "TREE HUNT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.