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Interview with Vali Nasr about US-Pakistan relations
Vali Nasr from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington talks about US-Pakistan relations as President Asif Ali Zardari visits New York.

Vali Nasr from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington talks about US-Pakistan relations as President Asif Ali Zardari visits New York.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: The anger in the Muslim world over the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video has further complicated the already fraught relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari raised the issue in a meeting with Hillary Clinton in New York, adding to divisions over American drone strikes in Pakistan and Islamabad's sheltering of terrorist groups including the Haqqani Network.

Vali Nasr is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Vali Nasr welcome to the program.


JIM MIDDLETON: The United States and Pakistan emerged from their latest discussions talking conciliation and cooperation, speaking of a road map for the way ahead. But are relations between Washington and Islamabad actually back on track?

VALI NASR: They are much more stable than they were a few months back, which means that there is some room for cooperation on intelligence, on open supply routes that can support US troops in Afghanistan. But the relations are still rather frosty. There is still a lot of bitter taste in the mouths of both sides after the tense relations last year over an American apology which came rather late after the death of a number of Pakistani soldiers in a border incident.

JIM MIDDLETON: So you're suggesting that that protracted stand off is still colouring relations, effecting the ability of Washington and Islamabad to work together in fighting terrorism?

VALI NASR: Well, the US was very tough on Pakistan throughout that. There was a lot of public recriminations against Pakistan, and even after the apology the US went ahead with declaring the Haqqani Network a foreign terrorist organisation. There has not been real resumption of aid. The two countries are maintaining bare minimum cooperation on terrorism issues in Afghanistan.

But this is not a relationship that is on a constructive positive track. There is still a gulf of distress between the two sides. They still don't see eye to eye on the long run, see an end game in Afghanistan. And there is a lot of anger in Pakistan still over the drone issues and over the general attitude the United States has had towards Pakistan, which in some ways may be very deserved, but nevertheless the Pakistanis don't like it.

JIM MIDDLETON: You mentioned the decision by Washington to name the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organisation. On one level that’s merely a statement of fact, but what impact does it have in maintaining Pakistan as a useful ally for the United States once foreign forces leave Afghanistan in 2014?

VALI NASR: Well, declaring the Haqqani as a terrorist organisation is a matter of fact, but it is also is a very loud and clear policy declaration. Because the United States got ever so closer to declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terror. So if the Haqqanis are a terrorist organisation, if you have their former chairman of the joint chiefs saying publicly before the US Senate that is the Haqqani is a veritable arm of Pakistani intelligence, you're now very close to putting Pakistan on some kind of a state sponsor of terrorism.

JIM MIDDLETON: Turning to a related subject, it was notable that after her meeting in Washington with Hillary Clinton, Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, refrained from criticising the violent and anti American demonstrations in Pakistan over that anti Muslim video. Was that a deliberate omission on her part? Should we read anything into that?

VALI NASR: No what we should read is she's a politician and that is an elected government. We don't often see that democratic governments in any part of the world are willing to really stand up to their own public opinion.

There is a deep anger at the United States in Pakistan. It has got worse because of the collapse of the relationship and, secondly, the issue of insulting the Prophet is a very sensitive issue in Pakistan. It goes back to the 1980s and the Salman Rushdie affair. This is a very sensitive issue. A weak democratically elected government, like the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) in Pakistan, really doesn't have the political room to be seen to be taking America's side against his own public, particularly on a sensitive religious issue.

JIM MIDDLETON: What do you make of the demands from a number of Muslim leaders, not just president Asif Ali Zardari but also president Yudhoyono of Indonesia, notably, for United Nations action to outlaw blasphemy globally, which has emerged in the wake of this video?

VALI NASR: First of all, it shows that still many leaders in the Muslim world take the United Nations more seriously than many in the West do. And they still look at United Nations resolutions as if they will have a force of international law, and it can regulate public opinion or press freedom internationally. But beyond that, it suggests that they all are seeing a tremendous amount of pressure from their own publics to do something. And that the anger that we are seeing in the Muslim world is politically serious, it can be particularly dangerous to elected leaders like those of Pakistan and Indonesia, and they have to be seen to be doing something.

JIM MIDDLETON: It does also suggest, does it not, a very deep philosophical divide. President Obama thought the threat to free speech entailed in this push, sufficiently serious to devote a substantial section of his United Nations speech to the subject. There’s a very deep division here, isn't there?

VALI NASR: Well, yes, but also president Obama could not be doing otherwise in an election year, given that free speech is of great importance to the American public opinion, and it is a very cherished value in the West.

But, you know the United States, Europe and perhaps Australia are places where a great deal of premium is put on free speech. But not only in the Muslim world but if you went to China, Russia, if you went to vast areas of the world, the premium is put on the rights of the majority and on social order and the ability of one individual to challenge the sensibility of the whole society, to insult the religion of the whole society and also to cause situations of disorder, it is not protected and there is very little tolerance for it.

JIM MIDDLETON: Vali Nasr, thank you very much.

VALI NASR: Thank you.
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