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No breakthroughs are expected today as Pakistan’s new prime minister and President Obama sit down for the first time.
The meeting comes a day after reports from two human rights groups found that U.S. drone strikes are in violation of international law and human rights. The White House responded with the assertion that the U.S. operations against terrorists “are precise, lawful and effective.”
U.S. drone policy is just one of the many issues complicating the relationship between the two countries. There is the scheduled withdrawal of American troops from neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. wants a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government before that withdrawal.
Pakistan is seen the key player in any deal because of its historic relationship with the Taliban — Pakistan helped the Taliban form and take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and U.S. intelligence believes that Pakistan still keeps close ties to the group.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S., says in his new book, “Magnificent Delusions,” that while the misunderstandings run on both sides, there is no doubt that Pakistan supports terrorism: “My countrymen will someday have to come to terms with global realities. Pakistan cannot become a regional leader in South Asia while it supports terrorism.”
Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s parliament who is now a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, goes to the White House today to meet with President Obama for the first time. Their meeting comes a day after reports that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan are in violation of international law and human rights. Drone policy is just one of the many issues complicating the relationship right now between the U.S. and Pakistan. So what can we expect from today's meeting?
Farahnaz Ispahani was an advisor to Pakistan's former President Asif Zardari. She's also served in the country's parliament, and she's with us now from the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where she is a resident scholar. Welcome.
FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI: Thank you.
HOBSON: Well, first, just tell us a little bit about Nawaz Sharif. His election marked the first civilian transfer of power in Pakistan's history.
ISPAHANI: All democratic entities in Pakistan have felt that this is a major moment. Not only did the last government withstand a lot of pressure but complete its five-year term. But having also a peaceful transition to a new democratic government is something we all take a great deal of pride in. And therefore Mr. Sharif being invited to Pakistan, to the United States so soon after coming into office makes us all feel proud.
HOBSON: Well, what should we know about him?
ISPAHANI: Mr. Sharif leads a center-right party. This - he has been prime minister twice before. This is his third time around. And the two most major parties in Pakistan, one is obviously the Pakistan People's Party, which is led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Mr. Sharif's is the other one. But Mr. Sharif is, you know, more - I would say more traditional in certain ways and closer to a less secular point of view.
HOBSON: Closer to a less secular point of view.
ISPAHANI: Yeah, in terms of, you know, the Pakistan People's Party or the ANP tend to be more pluralistic in - and have more sort of minorities and women within their party ranks and in parliament, et cetera. Mr. Sharif is, in that way, a little more conservative.
HOBSON: Well, what does he want out of the Pakistan relationship with the United States and how does it differ from what President Obama is looking for?
ISPAHANI: Well, I think this is unfortunate. Where it's clear that the United States wants to show support for democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan, and that makes the meeting positive. Number one, the Obama administration invited Mr. Sharif. The administration released $1.6 billion in aid. But major issues remain unresolved. The U.S. remains concerned about Pakistan being a jihadi hub.
Pakistan continues public protest against drones. So Prime Minister Sharif's visit restores engagement, but the differences and the lack of trust between the two sides is far from over.
HOBSON: Well, you say the U.S. is concerned about Pakistan being a jihadi hub. Your husband has said that they're - the government of Pakistan supports terrorism. Do you agree with that?
ISPAHANI: There are definitely elements within Pakistan, as former Prime Minister Gillani called it, a state within the state, who have definitely supported jihadi groups, firstly in Afghanistan and in Kashmir. And now, unfortunately, those jihadi groups have started - they've come home to roost. And we are seeing suicide bombings and sectarian killings by these very jihadi groups today. So Pakistan is suffering the backlash of the support of these groups.
HOBSON: And Farah, I should say that, for listeners that don't know, your husband is Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. What about the issue of drones? Do you think that anything can be resolved, especially after the reports yesterday about the U.S. drone policy in Pakistan?
ISPAHANI: Well, there were two yesterday, the Amnesty report and the U.N. report. And the U.N. report said clearly that in some cases senior government figures gave their approval to the drone strikes and that there was strong evidence that between June 2004 and June 2008, there was active consent and approval of senior members of the Pakistan military and intelligence services.
And this is the report authored by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special raporter on human rights and counterterrorism. So this cannot be discounted. Also, former military dictator President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview to CNN earlier this year, that his government had given approval, though he said only on a very few occasions. So the issue really in Pakistan is public narrative.
In private, what I have referred to as the elite - the ruling elite - have worked hand in hand and, you know, with - regarding the drones - and the drones have - as I've said publicly, have been needed. They caused perhaps less collateral damage, far less collateral damage than Pakistani F-16s would. It is in a very dangerous area. And so, you know, there is an argument to be made that, of course, doesn't deal with the legal issues of this question.
HOBSON: But you're saying so privately that - privately, they may say they support the use of drones, but publicly, for a domestic audience at least, that Pakistanis don't want to say that. We just have about a minute left, but I want to ask you, what do you think Americans should know about Pakistan that they don't? Are there misconceptions that are causing a problem in the relationship?
ISPAHANI: I think the problem is that the narrative that has been spun by the governing elite - and by those, I mean the permanent establishment of Pakistan - has run this anti-American campaign, has run this anti-drone campaign and has, in a way, brainwashed the Pakistani people. And that has really adversely affected Pakistani's own view of who is causing terrorism in Pakistan and who the enemies are - of Pakistani are in the world. So it is very important for Americans to know that Pakistanis do not hate them except they have been taught to hate them.
HOBSON: Farahnaz Ispahani speaking with us from the Wilson Center in Washington where she is a resident scholar. She was also an adviser to Pakistan's former president and served in the country's parliament. Farahnaz Ispahani, thank you so much for joining us.
ISPAHANI: Thank you very much.
HOBSON: And you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.