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In Pakistan, Skepticism At Obama Speech

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Pakistan today, a suicide bomber struck outside the naval headquarters in the capital, Islamabad. Two people were killed. The attack came just hours after President Obama said in his speech at West Point that Pakistan and the U.S. share a common enemy. Mr. Obama also said success in Afghanistan was inextricably linked to Pakistan.

From Islamabad, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports on reaction to the president's address.

JULIE McCARTHY: President Obama stated unequivocally that al-Qaida is lodged along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and that he intends no let-up in the pressure on them.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan, and that's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

McCARTHY: The U.S. is clear: Success in Afghanistan depends on eradicating safe havens in Pakistan. But many here reject the premise that militants continue to find refuge within Pakistan's lawless border region.

Former senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed says it's more American posturing than policy, eight years after failing to catch Osama bin Laden.

Mr. MUSHAHID HUSSAIN SAYED (Former Senator, Pakistan): I have no doubt if the U.S. knew where the so-called safe havens are of al-Qaida, they would have bombed the hell out of them long time ago. And I see a lot of double standard here, that they are looking for scapegoats in order to cover up their own failings.

McCARTHY: But Mushahid praises the president's strategic reorientation with Pakistan. The White House wants to strengthen the besieged country's capacity to combat extremism, but also help Pakistan develop with billions of dollars in civilian aid.

Retired general Talat Masood says Washington is dangling a carrot to lure Pakistan into acting against extremists that it had accommodated in the past.

General TALAT MASOOD (Retired, Pakistani Army): And they are also saying that if you were able to sort of get rid of them and take action against them, then we are quite willing to sort of expand our military and economic assistance and also see to it that, you know, your relations with India improve.

McCARTHY: But General Masood says Pakistanis remember well when the Americans abandoned them once the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended 20 years ago.

Gen. MASOOD: There is a strong anti-Americanism, which prevails. And that is a very serious problem in Pakistan-U.S. relations.

McCARTHY: The fragility of President Asif Ali Zardari, who is buffeted by corruption scandals and calls for his resignation, compounds the problems for the United States.

Newspaper editor and analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai says deprived of a strong partner, Washington must deal with Pakistan's most stable institution: the army. And that, he says, is tricky for any U.S. president looking to burnish his democratic credentials.

Mr. RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI (Editor, The News in Peshawar): This is a delicate balancing act. You don't want to be seen to be too close to the army. But without the army in a country like Pakistan, you cannot achieve much.

McCARTHY: The foreign ministry said today it looks forward to engaging closely with the U.S. in the new strategy, but wants to ensure that there would be no adverse fallout on Pakistan.

Former ambassador Zafar Hilaly speculates on what that fallout may refer to.

Mr. ZAFAR HILALY (Former Ambassador, Pakistan): If there is any unilateral action, let's say against the territory of Pakistan, I think that would be most unfortunate. And it would go down very badly here.

McCARTHY: There is widespread skepticism here that sending additional troops to Afghanistan will make the war any more winnable, nor that it will pacify Pakistan's unruly neighbor to the west. The worry here is that more troops will push more militants across the border into Pakistan.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad. 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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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.
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