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Pakistan Urged To Nudge Militants Toward Peace


Let's go overseas now, where U.S. troops and diplomats are trying another approach to Pakistan. The U.S. is trying to find some way to weaken the insurgents who strike in Afghanistan from their bases across the border in Pakistan. The U.S. had been demanding a major offensive against the so-called Haqqani Network in Pakistan, and that offensive has not happened. Now U.S. officials want Pakistanis to supply intelligence on the militants and help get them to the negotiating table. From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Washington and Islamabad are slowly recovering from the discovery and killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan last May that plunged relations into a freefall. With the idea of peace talks for Afghanistan gaining traction, the two sides are now inching closer toward an approach to end the war next door. But Pakistan is still not comfortable with the new U.S. strategy of fight and talk.

MALEEHA LODHI: A view that is predicated on the belief that Pakistan does not share, that the only way to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table is to whack them.

MCCARTHY: That's former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, Maleeha Lodhi. She says Pakistan does not think that pressing for talks while waging all-out war provides an incentive for the insurgents to let the Americans smoothly depart by 2014.

LODHI: If anything, it provides a disincentive. I think Pakistan is trying to tell the Americans that, look, you've got these timelines but the peace process is way behind these timelines. In fact, there is a lack of fit between the peace process, because it hasn't really got off the ground.

MCCARTHY: Ten years of war next door has destabilized Pakistan. The country is now consolidating around the message give peace a chance. The United States is urging Pakistan to persuade the Haqqani militants to join reconciliation talks. The Haqqanis are believed to be responsible for some of this year's deadliest attacks in Kabul.

Former Pakistan Intelligence Agency chief Javed Ashraf Qazi insists that Pakistan has not armed, trained or supplied the militants and that the United States has exaggerated Pakistani leverage over them.

JAVED ASHRAF QAZI: This is something the United States has to realize, that we cannot have more influence because we are not giving them the weapons. We do not have the money to give.

Afghan war against the Soviets was a different matter. At that time the money was flowing in from CIA, the money was coming in from the Saudi Arabians. There is nothing now. We are left on our own. So how can we fund them now? We can't. And therefore our influence is limited.

MCCARTHY: Qazi says the Taliban didn't listen when Pakistan asked them a decade ago to turn over Osama bin Laden, suggesting they may not listen today to overtures about peace.

But Daily Times editor Rashed Rahman says Pakistan's influence is not so limited.

RASHED RAHMAN: Fact of the matter is we have been supporting this insurgency surreptitiously and by now quite openly. So you know, the mere fact of their presence on Pakistani soil, being able to find safe havens here and operate from here into Afghanistan in and of itself indicts Pakistan as following a dual policy.

MCCARTHY: The U.S. continues to press Pakistan to stop insurgent attacks emanating from its side of the border. Still, Rashed Rahman says Pakistan is loathe to dislodge the Haqqanis from its soil because of a belief that they could be key allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw. The Americans are asking Pakistan now only to squeeze the Haqqanis. Again, veteran diplomat Meleeha Lodi.

LODHI: That's the word, squeeze the Haqqani Network. That's a shift from wanting a full-fledged, full scale operation. Squeeze means contain and contain while we can open talks with them. In a way it presents an opportunity now for Pakistan to see how best it can now shift the dynamic between fighting and talking.

MCCARTHY: The U.S. met secretly with a Haqqani representative this summer, talks arranged by Pakistani intelligence. This past week the U.S. said it will negotiate with the group, even if Washington has designated some members terrorists. Meleeha Lodi says Pakistan needs peace in Afghanistan for its own sake, and that its ability to deliver the militants is worth testing.

LODHI: It's certainly worth a shot for Pakistan to step up to the plate and say if people need our help, we would like to provide this help. We're not sure we can get you there, but we're sure as hell going to try.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.