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India Keeping Close Eye on Neighboring Pakistan


Now, let's turn to how the country sees its own neighbors, Afghanistan and India in particular. This past week, we asked people in the streets of Islamabad whether those two relationships, or the one with the United States is more important.

NISAR SHAH: (Through Translator) I think at this time the most important thing for Pakistan is to make peace with India and other countries in the region. Borders should be opened, economy should be strengthened, and we should get rid of arms race.

AYESHA SHAKEEL: U.S. should be taken into context that it is a superpower and we are in the need to maintain the relationship. So U.S. should be given more attention and more focus should be on U.S., rather than Afghanistan.

IFRAN KHAN: (Through Translator) We should not have good relations with India or the United States. We should have good relations with China because they always helps us.

DR. ASIM SAJJAD: The world map is not going to change. India and Afghanistan will always be our neighbors. If we want the military to be answerable to the people of Pakistan, this bogeyman of India has to disappear.

MARTIN: That was Nisar Shah, Ifran Khan, Ayesha Shakeel and Dr. Asim Sajjad from Pakistan.

Joining us now to talk more about Pakistan's political relationships is Steve Coll. He is a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine. He's also the president of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to the program, Steve.

STEVE COLL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The longstanding animosity between Pakistan and its neighbor, India, is well-documented. But clearly, based on what we just heard, there is recognition that it is an important relationship. Why is that?

COLL: Well, it's changing. And one of the reasons is that India's economy is growing so rapidly - quite something from Pakistan's perspective. If they could attach themselves to India's economic transformation, benefit from it, open the border, trade, and involve their own middle-class in the prosperity that India's middle-class is enjoying, Pakistan could transform itself in a way that really no other path offers.

MARTIN: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was just in India, asking for more corporation from the Indians and help with the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, specifically with training Afghan national security forces. And really, up until now, the U.S. has not encouraged this is because such participation by India would make Pakistan nervous.

What changed, do you think?

MARTIN: In that same vein, how do you think Pakistan sees its role in the region, in this moment?

COLL: I think they feel in a weak and besieged position basically, both vis-a-vis the United States and vis-a-vis India, which they regard as still hostile in its intentions towards Pakistan, still a country that doesn't recognize Pakistan has a right to exist.

And so, a lot of the lashing out they do, a lot of the hedging and maintaining of unsavory options by supporting Islamic militias that could undermine India's stability or undermine Afghanistan's stability, I think proceeds from this basic position that they are weak and that they're aware of the weakness, but they don't want to confess it.

MARTIN: That was Steve Coll. He is a writer with The New Yorker magazine and the president of the New America Foundation in Washington.

NPR's Julie McCarthy is still with us. Julie, you are wrapping up a more than three-year stint reporting from Pakistan. We've just heard about all the political dynamics that Pakistan is trying to balance and how differently the U.S. and Pakistan see the world. I'm wondering if you see, based on your time there, that there's any way out of this standoff?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Rachel, I think we are at the point where the United States is moving towards managing Pakistan and containing any damage that may flow through it. You heard Steve Coll say the United States has given up on Pakistan at a strategic level and in frustration is forging other alliances. That is a long way away from where the United States was three years ago.

Now, in 30 years of war next door has heavily influenced Pakistani society. It's introduced Islamist ideologies that are not going to be rectified anytime soon. But to wind up, Rachel, I say don't look for any rupture in a U.S.-Pakistan relationship relations. With an Islamist militancy deeply entrenched in Pakistan, and with the fastest-growing nuclear arsenal in the world here, the U.S. will have its eyes and ears on this country.

Senator Kerry got to the nub of this issue: The U.S. simply cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan.

MARTIN: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. Julie, thanks so much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.


MARTIN: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.