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Pakistan Bristles at U.S. Envoys' Arrival


Now to Pakistan, where one headline reads: Hands Off, Please, Uncle Sam. That pretty much typifies the mood in Pakistan at the moment, and some believe it's just gotten stronger, thanks to the arrival of two U.S. senior envoys.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived in Islamabad yesterday. That's the same day that Pakistan's new prime minister was being sworn in in the capital. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES: The U.S. State Department says the visit is routine diplomacy, to emphasize that the U.S. looks forward to working with Pakistan's new coalition government, to explore future plans. Author and journalist Zahid Hussain says many Pakistanis don't see it that way.

Mr. ZAHID HUSSAIN (Journalist): It has not gone down well with the people of Pakistan. And there has been a really adverse reaction in the media. Basically, most of the Pakistani leaders feel it was unnecessary and counterproductive.

REEVES: Counterproductive, Hussain says, because many Pakistanis resent the influence the U.S. exercised over President Pervez Musharraf when he was in full command of the country.

This is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan. Hundreds of Pakistanis have been killed in recent months by suicide bombs. Pakistanis tend to blame this on Musharraf's willingness to bow to U.S. pressure and send their troops to fight Islamist militants in the country's tribal belt.

Now they fear Washington's trying to tell Pakistan's new coalition government how to combat Islamist militancy before it's even in place. There's no doubt the attitude of Pakistan's new government to the war on terror is at the top of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte's agenda. Pakistan's newly elected leaders are talking about a change of approach.

Mr. HUSSAIN HAQQANI (Former Bhutto Adviser): The big difference is going to be that until now, the focus of the Musharraf regime was on getting international support by presenting itself as the bulwark against terrorism. We do not need to do that. What we need to do is essentially deal with the problem of terrorism, and we will do it.

REEVES: That's Hussain Haqqani, a former adviser to the late Benazir Bhutto who's expected to get a senior diplomatic assignment with the new government. He stresses Pakistan's new government won't appease terrorists, but it will be willing to enter into a dialogue with some militants in the tribal areas.

Mr. HAQQANI: There are groups within the Pakistani Taliban movement that could be negotiated with, and there are groups that cannot be negotiated with. I think it's important to understand the multifaceted nature of the problem.

REEVES: Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali was foreign minister under Benazir Bhutto and is in the running to get the job again. He says Pakistanis want an overhaul of Pakistan's relationship with the U.S.

Mr. SARDAR ASIF AHMAD ALI (Former Foreign Minister): The general perception in Pakistan is - and this perception became very loud during the last elections and this campaign - this perception is that the deal on war on terror is a deal which is favorable to one party and unfavorable to Pakistan.

REEVES: Musharraf negotiated in the past with leaders in Pakistan's tribal areas and entered peace agreements. These eventually failed.

Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali says they were too limited in scope. He says he'd like to see a dialogue in which the Pakistani government should demand that the militants in the tribal belt stop cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan and hand over foreign militants.

In return, he says, the government should offer to remove the tens of thousands of troops in the tribal areas, to extend civil and political rights to the people there, and to hold a referendum on bringing them into mainstream Pakistan. And he believes the U.S. will just have to accept the new government's change of approach.

Mr. AHMAD ALI: Do they have a choice? This is the only country through which a war in the Afghanistan can be fought. They have no other access.

REEVES: Pakistan's military has now withdrawn from day-to-day politics. But analysts believe the military will continue to control key areas of Pakistan's security policy, including the handling of the tribal belt in Afghanistan. The new government appears to have other ideas.

Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who heads the coalition's second largest party, met the U.S. envoys yesterday. He said he told them Pakistan's new parliament would decide how Pakistan should approach Islamist extremism.

Philip Reeves, NPR News. 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.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.