A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The U.S.-Pakistan alliance has long been troubled. It hit a new low after the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound last May. But the two allies recently began to repair the relationship. Now the gains appear to have been lost. Over the weekend, a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The details remain unclear. NATO said the strike was ordered after coalition forces came under fire from Pakistan. Islamabad strongly disputes that account. Guest host Susan Page will talk with a panel of experts about what happened and what’s at stake for the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- Christine Fair assistant professor, Georgetown University's security studies program; fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.
- Shuja Nawaz director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center and author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within."
- Jonathan Landay senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. NATO has promised to investigate a weekend airstrike that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. So far, the account given by NATO and Afghan forces differs from Pakistan's version of the events, and once again, Washington and Islamabad faced a crisis in their alliance.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to talk about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and why it matters, Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council, Christine Fair of Georgetown University, and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
PROF. CHRISTINE FAIRThank you.
MR. JONATHAN LANDAYGood morning.
MR. SHUJA NAWAZThank you.
PAGEWe're gonna invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Jonathan Landay, two very different accounts of what happened over the weekend. What do we know about this airstrike so far?
LANDAYWell, what we know is that this took place in -- a part of Pakistan's tribal area called Bajaur, which is opposite Afghanistan's -- sorry, Mohmand, which is opposite Afghanistan's province of Nangarhar. According to the Pakistanis, they say there was a deliberate -- and they used the word deliberate -- airstrike on two military -- their military posts on the border, very badly demarcated border, that went on for about two hours and killed 24 of their soldiers.
LANDAYNATO is -- it says it's investigating, and there are reports, not official, but from U.S. officials and officers that, in fact, there was a operation going on, a joint Afghan-U.S. operation, against the Taliban base. They began taking fire from the Pakistani side of the border, and they called in airstrikes to suppress that fire. And so far there is a -- investigations being launched under a U.S. one-star general -- I believe he's an Air Force general, Special Forces general -- to investigate exactly what happened.
PAGESo, Christine Fair, the U.S. and Afghan forces said they were fired on from this Pakistani soldier position. Has that happened before? Is there a precedent for this?
FAIRIt happens all the time. And I think if we look at the previous five or six high-profile, similar but ultimately less sanguinary accounts, I think we can, sort of, come up with a playbook of how this is gonna roll out. You know, the United States doesn't want to be in -- you'll notice the U.S. has been very silent. They want NATO. The Americans want NATO to be out in the front of it. In the past, we've had very similar things, fires coming from the Pakistani side.
FAIRSuppressive air fire has been called in to suppress the hostile fire, and the way in which this ultimately gets rationalized is perhaps the Taliban were abutting up against Pakistani positions. Possibly, they were lured in by the Taliban. And these narratives are persistently brought out to explain these events at different points of the last few years, and, you know, that narrative is helpful because it allows the Americans to not have into our political discourse the fact that we wouldn't have these accounts.
FAIRWe wouldn't have these accounts. We wouldn't have these encounters if the Pakistanis were supporting the Taliban, right? This is not something that the Americans really want out in our political discourse, and it also gives the Pakistanis a way out. So I suspect when this is all said and done, we will probably never know the actual truth, but what we'll have is some account that manages to assuage the political concerns both in the United States and in Pakistan as best as possible.
PAGEWell, apart from the political concerns, what do you think actually happened?
FAIRWell, what I actually think happened is that there was fire coming from the Pakistani position. It is utterly inconceivable that NATO forces would simply do this without some sort of provocation. What the NATO -- that provocation is, of course, is very much in dispute. We do know that the Americans called the Pakistanis and gave them coordinates. The Pakistanis said that to their knowledge, there were no military positions at those coordinates, and then the fire was called in.
FAIRThe Pakistanis, of course, are saying that this did not happen. So even things like communication is being disputed in this account, but I find it very difficult to believe that there was some sort of provocation. It makes no sense. This happens all the time.
PAGEShuja Nawaz, do you agree with that? Do you think it is likely that there was provocation before the airstrikes were undertaken by NATO?
NAWAZI think at this point, anything is possible, and it may well have happened. It may also have been a way for the Taliban to have hidden in the shadow of these posts, knowing that it might prevent some counterattack from the Afghan side of the border, but at this point, I think, we just don't know all the facts. The Pakistani initial information has been quite incomplete and so as the information from the Afghan side. It's coming out in dribs and drabs. We -- what is really needed is a very rapid inquiry to establish the facts.
NAWAZWhat we do know is that there was communication at the higher level, that there was a communication between the Afghans and the director general military operations at army headquarters. Now, that's really not the most effective way of communicating when you've got a firefight on the border, so clearly something is missing.
PAGENow, Christine says it's not credible that there would be Taliban forces right next to the Pakistani position...
FAIROh, that's not what I said.
PAGENo. Okay, well, correct me. What do you think is not credible? I mean, to what degree are the Pakistani soldiers likely to be complicit in action that prompted this firefight?
FAIRWell, see, that's the real question that everyone is dodging here. At the 30-foot level, what we have is a tragedy that resulted in the loss of 25 Pakistani soldiers. At the 30,000 level, what we really have is a strategic problem with Pakistan continuing to support the Afghan Taliban even while they waive their own fight against elements of the Pakistan Taliban.
FAIRSo one has to ask the question, even if as some people have suggested that the Taliban were abutting Pakistan army positions -- let's just say for the sake of argument that that's the case -- how is it that they were able to abut themselves to Pakistani positions? So this either suggests that our Pakistani partners are incompetent or incapable or unwilling.
FAIRSo even in the most palatable narrative that we could put forward that provides exculpatory cover for both NATO and the Pakistanis, we still have to ask, how is it that there can be Afghan or Afghan Taliban firing upon NATO and Afghan troops in the Pakistani side of the border? I mean, this is a difficult question for the Pakistanis to answer.
PAGEAnd, Shuja, what do you think the answer to that is?
NAWAZI don't know. I really don't, given the information, because it's so conflicting and so piecemeal at this time. The -- some of the bits and pieces that have come out, for instance, say that there was an Afghan army operation, and they came under fire, and then they brought in NATO, so it wasn't a combined NATO-Afghan army operation according to that narration. There's another report that I saw that says the Pakistanis detected some movement and fired flares, and then machine gun bursts in the bushes below the posts.
NAWAZNow, if these posts are similar to some of other posts that I'm familiar with in that area, they normally tend to be on very high hills or promontories. And most of these posts are quite new, so they're well constructed, very visible, as posts. They're not kind of ramshackle lean-tos that have been put together. So if that was the case, a burst of machine gun fire really doesn't translate into an attack onto the other side.
NAWAZNow, one should remember, in the past, there had been instances, not in Nangarhar, but in Kunar, a little north, where the Pakistani Taliban are reported to have sought sanctuary in the Afghan side, and the Pakistanis have retaliated with artillery fire across the border, and that's created problems with Afghanistan and has created problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we don't think, based on any of the information that's come out, that that was the case.
NAWAZIf there was fire, it's probably small arms, and the investigation will need to produce some credible evidence of exactly what happened, and then the Pakistani side will have to produce its evidence of exactly what happened.
LANDAYThere's a long history to this. I've embedded with U.S. forces along that border, and I can tell you that U.S. officers on the tactical level, let alone the 30,000-foot level, have complained vociferously, at least privately, about the fire that they take from the Pakistani side of the border -- rocket fire, RPG fire -- and that the Taliban locate themselves by these posts deliberately, using them as cover. But worse than that, there are -- have also been instances where a lot of these posts are not just military.
LANDAYYou have a paramilitary force called the Frontier Corps. It's military. It's regular army-led, but it is a -- it is recruited from that area, that there -- I have talked to American officers who have talked about how Frontier Corps soldiers have provided supporting fire against Afghan and American positions to allow the Taliban when the Taliban are infiltrating into Afghanistan, they actually provide covering fire. The frustration level, not just on -- among combat forces on that border but also all the way up into the White House over this continued problem, which was really bad.
LANDAYThis summer, I was in Afghanistan when there was this shelling that Shuja talks about from the Pakistani side of the border. The Afghans complained about, somewhere in the neighborhood, 400 of their civilians being killed. You didn't hear this kind of outcry at the political level in Afghanistan that you're hearing from the Pakistani's side of things. And so that's the context. The other thing that needs to be talked about here is that this is got to be one of the most lawyered wars -- and that's what the military calls it -- in the history of the world.
LANDAYAmerican forces, before they're allowed to pull the trigger on rockets or air strikes, they actually have lawyers who will watch the video feeds from predator, from drones to -- and they will decide whether or not that's a target that can be legitimately attacked. So I have no doubt that that was going on -- that went on in this case that or at least that there was permission coming from the very highest levels to open fire. So the idea that this was deliberate is ludicrous.
PAGESo we have disputes over the precise details of what happened. No disputes over the seriousness of the consequences. We're gonna talk about that after we take a short break. We're in the studio today with Christine Fair of Georgetown University, Jonathan Landay from McClatchy Newspapers, Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about that terrible tragedy in Pakistan over the weekend. NATO airstrikes killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. Great disputes about what led to it. No dispute about the consequences. So what are the consequences, Christine Fair, of this incident?
FAIRWell, I mean, where does one begin with that? I think, in some sense, we have to look at how the Pakistanis chose to react to this -- and I'm gonna use the word chose. The Pakistanis have consistently said, including high-level army officials, that this was a deliberate American aggression on Pakistani positions. I can only interpret this as part of the general headquarters, the Pakistan army's evolving commitment to putting an ever-greater wedge between our countries. The United States, unfortunately, and our leadership has really failed.
FAIROur Armed Forces, it's failed our citizenry because it has soaked a lot of resources into Afghanistan, be it treasure, be it lives. Thousands of Americans have died. Tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of Afghans over the course of the last 10 years have perished. Yet, we've never really grappled with the fundamental source of the problem. And this is the irony, that every time I see someone walking in the airport with an artificial limb I become furious about. The fact is Pakistan is supporting the Afghan Taliban and its allied fighters, such as the Haqqani network.
FAIRAnd here is this grotesque irony, that as we are trying so hard to prevent a civil war in Afghanistan, as we're trying so hard to consolidate the hard-won gains that have taken place in Afghanistan -- though they may not be as great as we would like -- and while we have paid Pakistan albeit a disputable sum in the order of $20 billion, Pakistan is supporting the very organizations that are killing our troops.
FAIRAnd so it is so ironic to me that Pakistanis, at least, have enough sense to be outraged at the cost that this war has imposed upon their society. Americans are blissfully ignorant of the strategic consequences of this impasse, that thousands of our troops, billions of dollars of our treasure has been literally wasted because we cannot win this war in Afghanistan when Pakistan over-determines that outcome. And the worst thing about the surge -- I was such an opponent of the surge because as we were trying ever harder to get out of Afghanistan, the surge made us ever more dependent upon Pakistan.
FAIRAnd this dependence principally comes from the fact that the Northern Distribution route that moves through Central Asia is not viable for large quantities. The Russians will not let us move lethal products through the Northern Distribution route. We can't somehow figure out a way of using the Iranian port at Chabahar, for reasons that are both obvious, but also bizarre. And so the entire resupply of the war goes to Pakistan. So isn’t this ironic that the very country that's over-determining the conflict in Afghanistan is the very country that's also enabling us to fight this war?
FAIRSo, you know, this is when you start realizing the enormous financial and unexpected interest. So, for example, if you were a dedicated insurgent, wouldn't you just sit there at the border crossing and blow up trucks? Yet the loss of these trucks has only been 1 percent. So you have to start asking, you know, what is it about this war that is so bizarre?
FAIRAnd I think what you see are vested interest in the Pakistanis, you have organized -- truthfully, criminal mafias that are running these trucking syndicates. Nothing is what it seems. But the bottom line is no matter what we do in Afghanistan, no matter what bow we put on Afghanistan to begin extricating ourselves by 2014, Pakistan will come in with bags of money and militants, and they will undo it and they will put it in the order that they want. They will over determine the outcome the outcome of Afghanistan.
PAGEShuja Nawaz, you agree with Christine's analysis?
NAWAZI think the costs to Pakistan have been enormous, and I agree with Christine on that. And the Pakistani society understands that. And I also agree that U.S. society doesn't understand the real cost to the U.S. of this war. This is understood by people in government, but it's not widely shared. Pakistanis have lost something like 36,000 people in the conflicts that have raged inside the country since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. And a very large number of them, almost 4,000, are military.
NAWAZSo they have their own internal problems that have resulted from this whole engagement in the modern region and moving troops into FATA, which created the Pakistani Taliban, which is another force that the Pakistani military is fighting. But at the higher level, I think the fact that the Pakistanis now are taking a very tough position, by shutting down and some say permanently the ground line of communication.
NAWAZAnd perhaps moving next to the airline of communication, which will eliminate very critical air supplies as well as the use of fighters from the Gulf, based carriers, as well as airfields in the Persian Gulf. We'll surely affect the American war effort in Afghanistan.
NAWAZThird, the announcement today that they will boycott the bond summit means that they are not going to participating in a regional approach to creating stability in Afghanistan. This is really going to create a problem in the region, and a problem that will eventually redound against Pakistan because if Afghanistan falls into chaos, you'll have reverse sanctuary for a lot of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan.
PAGEWell, no question, cost to the Pakistani people cost to Americans. But what about Christine's point that Pakistan is, in fact, supporting the fight against U.S. forces?
NAWAZWell, they're again at the 30,000 level. There is a wide divergence between the U.S. position and the Pakistani position. Pakistan's regional interests still remain very wedded to the idea of having some kind of a controlling influence on Afghan politics. And there isn't a great deal of support for that within Afghanistan. But this is a very lingering remnant of the old relationships that were conceived in Islamabad.
PAGEJonathan, what about Christine's point that -- she said Americans are kind of blissfully unaware of the real situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Do you think that's true? And if it's true, why?
LANDAYAbsolutely. I've been trying to write about this for the last several years, and I spent a good deal of time concentrating on this issue while I was in Afghanistan this past summer. The fact is that the administration's narrative for justifying U.S. -- the U.S. presence, military presence, continued presence in Afghanistan, is just bogus. They have been telling -- they basically adopted the Bush administration's narrative, which is we're there because of al-Qaida, to prevent al-Qaida from reestablishing bases in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida hasn't been a factor there for years.
LANDAYAnd what the real problem is -- the real problem is that the Taliban, sponsored by Pakistan, is much stronger than it ever was. It is present in at least half, if not more, of Pakistan's provinces. And what we're really doing there is preventing a reversion to the civil war that was raging in that country prior to 9/11, at least prior, sorry, to October 7, 2001, when the U.S. intervention began there. That's where it's going again. The U.S. intention to begin withdrawing has created this enormous vacuum. And we got to go back to that civil war as it rage.
LANDAYQuite frankly, it was mostly between Afghanistan's minorities, who were dubbed The Northern Alliance, and the Pashtuns, the Taliban, who will make up -- who are comprised predominantly by the Pashtuns, who are the largest ethnic group. The Northern Alliance, the so-called, the former Northern Alliance, is preparing for that war to begin again. They are re-arming, they are re-constituting their militias because they see this effort by the United States to start negotiations with the Taliban as a betrayal.
LANDAYThey see it as an -- what -- as bringing back the Taliban, who are, they see, legitimately as proxies for Pakistan. They are no way are they gonna allow that situation to happen again, to return them to the mid-1990s, where the Taliban were the proxies of Pakistan, were receiving money from Pakistan, were receiving military guidance from Pakistan, and were prosecuting this war against the minorities. That's where this going again.
LANDAYAnd if it happens, then as Shuja said, you're gonna have a regional conflagration because you're gonna have Afghans, million of them, pouring back across the border into a much weaker Pakistan. Pakistan can't afford to support five million Afghan refugees again. You're gonna see Afghans flowing again as refugees back into Iran. Iran can't support that kind of population. And Pakistan right now, as Shuja pointed out, is also trying to deal with its own Islamic insurgency.
LANDAYIt's a country that has nuclear weapons that is in the throes of a serious economic crisis. And you put all of that together, you've got a really dangerous brew that, in fact, threatens -- raises international security concerns.
PAGEWe're gonna take your calls in just a moment. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Well, as you mentioned, U.S. -- the U.S. administration plans to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and complete it by 2014. Does this situation with Pakistan complicate that plan, Christine?
FAIRThis is where I think -- maybe there might be different views around the table. Now let's be very clear about what we mean by withdrawing by 2014. A lot of people think of this as cut and run. We're gonna begin reducing our counterinsurgency footprint in Afghanistan. We are going to continue to have a training mission. We're gonna continue working on governance issues. We're gonna try to move to have a more normalized relationship with Afghanistan.
FAIRWe are trying to negotiate a strategic agreement with them that will look a lot like a status of forces agreement, whereby we have access to Afghan military bases, where we'll be co-located. So when we talk about withdrawing or leaving, that's really, I think, a misunderstanding of this process and the timeline. Now I want to go back to what Jonathan said. So what we're really trying to -- I'm sorry, my voice is cracking up.
FAIRWhat Jonathan was talking about is a proxy war. We're essentially putting in billions of dollars of resources to try to enable Afghanistan to as we pull back from these counterinsurgency operations, to allow them to fend off Pakistan's proxies. So, you know, we are -- we're basically substituting one proxy war for another. You know, I see this 2014 window as the beginning of a new opportunity space for the Americans to rethink their relationship with Pakistan.
FAIRMuch of this conversation is really focused on Afghanistan, but I'm gonna argue -- and I think we actually all agree 'cause we've all talked about this in the past -- our most grievous and salient security concerns are actually resident in Pakistan. And the -- one of the reasons why I've been such an opponent of this counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan is that it has required the U.S. to basically acquiesce to all of Pakistan's demands because we need them for the logistical resupply.
FAIRWe have not been able to be firm and execute our policies when it comes to Pakistan's support for a whole raft of other militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. I see 2014 as our large-scale counterinsurgency footprint begins to diminish and our requirements for Pakistan begin to diminish, we need to really restructure our relationship. And I'm increasingly of the view that we should really look at the lessons we learned from the Cold War, vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.
FAIRWe had no illusions that we were friends. In fact, it was very clear that we were enemies, that we wanted different things for the world and in specific regions. We cooperated when it was in our interest. We kept our embassies going. We kept our consulates open. We kept military cooperation. We invested in civil society where we could, not with this vision of transforming. U.S. goals towards transforming Pakistan are so misplaced.
FAIRBut the most important insight from the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union is that we learned to live with the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no nuclear Armageddon, that the international community was able to weather that crisis. So far, Pakistan is able to hold the world hostage by saying, stop me before I kill myself. And we will do anything to prevent Pakistan from falling into a crisis beyond which it can't solve it itself. I think we need to get over that fear.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're gonna take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. In fact, let's go first to Jim. He's calling us from Sarasota, Fla. Jim, hi. You're on the air.
JIMHey, Sue. How are you doing?
PAGEGood. Thank you.
JIMMy question is, is once we leave, all that money that we've been giving them, who's gonna give them the money now? And, you know, I heard that China is really trying to get their influence on there. Why does China want to get into it so bad? Would they be willing to give them the money that they need? And where is the money going to?
PAGEAll right, Jim. Thanks so much for your call. Relationship with China, Shuja. What is the nature of it? Is that an avenue that Pakistan could expand if the U.S. -- situation with the U.S. becomes more difficult?
NAWAZI don't think so. The Chinese are extremely pragmatic. They have a very long-term view of this relationship, and they will not change it dramatically and certainly not step in, in place of the United States in the region. I was in Beijing early September at a conference that the Chinese organized on cooperating with the United States and Central Asia and the Middle East. They are very keen to make sure that the kind of conditions that persist in the border region of Pakistan that are producing Islamic terrorists that are now infiltrating Xinjiang Province are prevented.
NAWAZSo the Chinese are not going to get involved as a replacement for the United States. I think there's a -- perhaps a slightly over-romanticized view inside Pakistan that this friendship -- which they call higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the oceans and, according to the current prime minister, Gilani, sweeter than honey -- is all that. But they will make statements of some kind of support, as they have in this incident. They will certainly not translate that into any massive support in terms of money or in terms of weaponry.
LANDAYThe Chinese interests are basically commercial. The Chinese have made the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan, thus far $3 billion for -- I don't know that the money has been paid, but for -- in order to be able to exploit -- for the rights to exploit the world's second largest -- the world's largest unexploited copper deposit about 40 miles south of Kabul, a place called Aynak. And they're looking at now at a iron ore -- an iron ore project called Hajigak, which is -- has enormous amounts of iron ore.
LANDAYBut the -- that's about, I think, the extent of the Chinese interest in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan. They, you know, they have built a port in Balujistan, Pakistan's province of Balujistan. That is -- they're looking at, I think, for more in terms of their own commercial interests, to be able to exploit mineral wealth in Balujistan and bring it back to China, more than actually helping Pakistan.
LANDAYSo -- and as Shuja points out, they are very concerned about the training of Islamic militants in Pakistan's tribal area from Xinjiang Province and the Uyghurs, where there has been some pretty serious tensions and bloodshed between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese.
PAGEChristine, our caller also asks where the U.S. money has gone. Where has primarily the U.S. money to Pakistan gone? What's it been used for?
FAIRWell, just very briefly on that point, I agree with everything that Shuja and Jonathan said about China, but let's not forget Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia -- we somehow always forget Saudi Arabia. And this -- the assistance that Saudi Arabia gives Pakistan is pretty opaque, but it's also really important. And Pakistan becomes much more important to Saudi Arabia as we see Iran becoming much more assertive.
FAIRThis has been an ongoing rivalry. Pakistan has always been the back upon which Saudi Arabia has fought its sectarian issues with Iran. But the money has largely been unaccounted for. Coalition support funds, no one knows where it went. Money given to the ministry of education, it's really unaccounted for.
PAGEWe're gonna take another short break. When we come back, we'll return to the phones, take some of your calls, read your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. He's the author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within." And Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. And Christine Fair, she's an assistant professor at Georgetown University's security studies program and a fellow at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.
PAGEWe've been talking about the situation with Pakistan and, of course, inevitably also with Afghanistan. Let's go to a caller. Robert is calling us from Patchogue, New York on Long Island. Hi, Robert.
ROBERTHow are you today?
PAGEGood. Thank you.
ROBERTI'm calling -- I know, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and their nuclear arsenal, there was large concerns. But my question is in the Soviet Union, there wasn't as many radicals in and around the region that were looking to use the weapons. It was more of arms dealers trying to get their hands on the weapons to sell them outside the country and around the world. With Pakistan, with some of the radicalized groups in and around the area, is there more of a concern that they would try to use the weapons from their current location?
PAGEAll right, Robert. Thanks for your call. Jonathan, what do you think?
LANDAYThere is concern. Despite the fact that both the United States, the Obama administration and the Pakistani government and military repeatedly, at least in public, give assurances that the Pakistani nuclear weapon is -- weapons are secure. There are about a hundred of them estimated, a hundred of them, that they're secure and that there's not much anyone should worry about. However, one should -- there's a number of issues here. First of all, we know that the Pakistani military has radicals within its ranks.
LANDAYThere were numbers of attempts at assassinating the former dictator Gen. Musharraf, I believe, four of them. And in each case, members of the military were implicated in that. Pakistan is producing more nuclear weapons fuel at a faster pace today than any other country in the world. It is in a basically a nuclear arms race with its rival India. And its plan for this additional fuel that it's producing is to produce battlefield nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons because its conventional strength is -- it's lost four wars to India.
LANDAYIt is unable to compete with India in the conventional sphere. And therefore, it is producing -- it has plans to produce even more nuclear weapons, smaller nuclear weapons. It is building its fourth plutonium production facility. And it is opposing -- it is the only country that is preventing the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva from negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, a treaty that would basically halt the production of nuclear weapons fuel around the world. So it is a very big concern.
LANDAYAnd it is probably the number one concern that keeps many American officials awake at night, the idea that one of these -- forget the weapons. How about the enormous mountains of waste that are being produced that can be used to build a dirty bomb, a conventional bomb surrounded by nuclear waste? That, I think, is probably the number one concern of all American officials involved in Afghan-Pakistan policy.
PAGEShuja, why is Pakistan so interested in having this very active nuclear program?
NAWAZAs Jonathan said, it's primarily in order to counter India's growing military and economic strength. But I look at it in a slightly wider context. And this is one of the ironies of the situation. That in the last year or two, the India-Pakistan relationship seems to be thawing. They've had very successful talks on trade issues, for instance, within the last few months.
NAWAZAfghanistan and Pakistan also had very successful talks on trade and transit trade brokered by Secretary Clinton herself. And if that were to open up, then you would eliminate a lot of the natural hostility that has existed for the past 65 years between India and Pakistan and between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
NAWAZSo perhaps the answer should be, in trying to find ways of improving relations among the countries of the region, rather than trying to focus on what is it that's keeping them apart, what is it that actually could draw them together in their own national interest, which would allow you to change their angle of attack so that Pakistan should stop seeing Afghanistan as some kind of a vessel or a client state.
NAWAZAnd it should see it for what it is, a much older, well-established nation that has access to Central Asia and energy for itself as well as for its neighbor to the east, India. So I would want to see a change in the way that the countries are viewing each other rather than simply looking at it from a military point of view.
PAGEDo you believe that the nuclear weapons that Pakistan now has are secure? And what do you think -- do you worry that they might go to rogue agents or be used in some very terrible way if the situation in Pakistan becomes more perilous?
NAWAZWell, the only information we have on this is what comes from official sources in Pakistan. And if they are to be believed and if the IISS report out of London, which is now many years old, is to be believed, they have what's called a robust system of security in place, using technical assistance from the United States. No direct U.S. involvement in that process. But there is never 100 percent security, particularly on nuclear issues. We've seen it even in the U.S.
NAWAZWe've had a nuclear -- loaded nuclear weapon travel across this country, and nobody knew that it was traveling 'till it landed on the other side of the continent. So I would worry. And I think the Pakistan military should be worried because if these weapons do escape, the military loses its hold on them, it loses control. And so it would be very much in their interest to have much better control system. But much more important to reduce the need for these weapons to create a much more normal relationship, particularly with India.
PAGEChristine, how concerned, do you think, the rest of the world should be about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?
FAIRWell, I mean, I don't disagree with either Jonathan or Shuja. I do have a somewhat different opinion about why they have them, which, I think, puts a different view on why we should be worried. The focus on improving Pakistan's bilateral relations with India or with Afghanistan based upon trade, I don't think it's going to affect the way Pakistan sees its strategic interest. China and India, for example, have a very robust and improving trade relationship, but they remain strategic competitors.
FAIRPakistan is not just about territorial disputes over Kashmir. India is a rising power of considerable consequence, and Pakistan simply doesn't want to acquiesce to India's hegemony in the region. So there's -- the -- so the nuclear arsenal is the only -- that and, of course, jihad under the nuclear umbrella, is the only foreign policy tool that Pakistan has to prosecute its interests. The other reason why Pakistan's continuing to grow its nuclear arsenal is international blackmail.
FAIRWe wouldn't care about Pakistan if it weren't for this. We wouldn't continue to obsess over when Pakistan finally comes crawling back to the IMF and acquiescing to their various unreasonable demands to not increase their tax net if we weren't worried about this growing arsenal. So this arsenal both allows Pakistan to prosecute jihad under its expanding nuclear umbrella in an environment of heightened concern -- concerns about the security of that arsenal.
FAIRAnd, ultimately, part of their strategy is to keep everyone involved and worrying about their arsenal and what happens should Pakistan somehow fall. I will also point out that when Pakistan has proliferated, it has been through state-sponsored proliferation, right? A. Q. Khan was not a rouge actor. So when I go to bed at night, I'm not necessarily worried about the Islamic barbarians at the nuclear gates.
FAIRI'm really worried about Pakistan becoming a North Korea that's not vested in the international community in the same way in which Aslam Beg, which was the Chief of Army Staff under Benazir Bhutto, when he decided to proliferate to Iran to undermine our security interest. I worry about a Pakistan, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, deciding to proliferate to undermine our security. Those are the issues that concern me when I think about their expanding nuclear arsenal.
PAGELet's talk to Lauren. She's calling us from Birmingham, Ala. Lauren, thank you for joining us.
LAURENHi. Good morning.
LAURENI wanted to just say, you know, if we've had the intelligence over a decade about Pakistan training terrorists and coming out of this region as announced between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Waziristan. You know, even commercialized books talk about, you know, even "Three Cups of Tea," which was written forever ago, which is, you know, a civil book that a lot of Americans have read, talked about this. Why is it now that our military is just starting to perform drone attack in Waziristan? And why are we not targeting, like, the schools that train these terrorists in Pakistan?
PAGEAll right. Lauren, thanks so much for your call. Jonathan.
LANDAYWe haven't just done that. That's been going on for quite some time. The problem is that a lot of these places are hidden. The range of the -- or the target set that the drones have is limited by agreement with Pakistan. This is -- the other thing that's been come out from this latest episode, and that is, you know, when it's happened, the Pakistanis announced that they were giving the United States two weeks to close down this base in Balochistan called Shamsi. Well, they've done that before.
LANDAYShamsi is a base that has been used by the CIA with the permission of the Pakistani military to launch drone strikes against militant bases, al-Qaida bases, Taliban bases in the tribal area. And yet publicly, every time one of these strikes happens, the Pakistani military moans and groans about violations of Pakistani sovereignty and civilian casualties, and yet it is with that Pakistani military's very cooperation and knowledge and collaboration that these drone strikes have taken place.
LANDAYAnd the fact is that, yes, the United States has -- knows where these militants are coming from. It knows where a lot of these bases are. Some of them you can't get to. For instance, the Quetta Shura, the leadership council of the Taliban operating predominantly in southeastern -- in southern Afghanistan is in Quetta, which is the provincial capital of Balochistan Province. Yet it's in a part of that city called Pashtun Abad -- that's where it's believed to be headquartered -- which is this warren -- it's a refugee camp of 300,000 people.
LANDAYIt's not some place that you can drop bombs on. And then, finally, there are a lot of other factors here, but the two that I will point to are the two logistics routes that along -- which about 49 percent of American supplies reach American troops and other members of the NATO force in Afghanistan from the Pakistani port of Karachi. Those are really -- those two routes are really the only real leverage, and it's very important leverage that the Pakistanis have in terms of holding the United States hostage in Afghanistan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, the idea of these routes being cutoff at least to this point, these supply routes, of course, the United States has made some efforts to get routes from other places to Russia, to Central Asia. Can those compensate, Christine?
FAIRNo. The northern distribution route, at maximum capacity, can maybe take 20 percent of our logistical requirements into Afghanistan. And the -- this is really a showdown between Russia and NATO. Russia has made it very difficult for any of the Central Asian Republics to allow us to move lethal goods through the NDN. So if you're gonna fight a war, you have to move lethal goods.
FAIRBut if I could go back very briefly to your -- there's another reason why we've been so hamstrung in dealing with the nest of -- the variety of nest of militants in Pakistan, and that is it's easy for us to think today that our enemy is the Taliban, but you will recall that as of 2005, the enemy was al-Qaida. And what we really had was an inter-agency dispute between the CIA and DOD. CIA did not want to do anything that would compromise Pakistan's cooperation with us on al-Qaida, and this remained the case until circa 2007.
FAIRSo for many years of this war, we actually weren't terribly obsessed with Pakistan's continued support to the Afghan Taliban because in many ways, we thought they were vanquished. It wasn't until 2006 that folks in NATO really understood that we had a resurgent -- well, insurgency in Afghanistan. The other issue was that many of the other militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, though they are horrible killers, we thought that they were India's problems.
FAIRIt wasn't until the Mumbai attack of 2008, around Thanksgiving weekend, that we, in fact, realize that they were our enemy. Our ability to coerce Pakistan to go after groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed is, again, hamstrung by our logistical requirement.
FAIRSo this is why I say 2014 is gonna be an opportunity for us to stand back and realize where our security interest lie and come up with policies that can -- that are more appropriately geared to compelling Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism in a way in which it has probably not for a decade, not for two decades, but literally since the origins of the state.
LANDAYIndeed, there -- I've at the, again, at the tactical level have seen evidence myself of Pakistani Taliban -- Pakistani insurgents coming -- radicals coming from Pakistan being allowed to come into Pakistan and actually fighting on behalf of the Afghan Taliban. I was in an ambush in 2009 in Kunar Province where some of the people who were trying to kill me and the troops I was with were Pakistanis.
LANDAYAnd this summer, I interviewed two former mid-level Taliban commanders in Kandahar, both of whom went over to the government's side because they were so frustrated they were being told by their commanders in Quetta that they had to take more and more Pakistani fighters to fight the Americans in southern Afghanistan. And they said, look, we want to fight the Americans. We don't want to burn down girl schools and blow up bridges. They can do that in their country, so we quit the Taliban, and we've come over to the government's side.
PAGEJust briefly, Christine talked the about the opportunity for a reset and rethinking of where U.S. interest really lie in Pakistan. Is that underway, do you think?
LANDAYI don't know, but there has been a proposal by the man who was the author of the original Obama administration strategic -- strategy in Pakistan-Afghanistan, Bruce Riedel, who's talked about -- who's now written openly about the need for a containment policy of Pakistan. And I think, yes, I think you're gonna start seeing a rethink. There will be maybe 20,000 U.S. troops left in Afghanistan, and those will be much easier to supply in alternative ways than the current way.
PAGEJonathan Landay, Christine Fair, Shuja Nawaz, thank you so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors, and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A. C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts, and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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