Pakistan Near Watershed Moment, But It Will Take Work
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
As we heard, the Pakistan Taliban has claimed responsibility for today's attacks. And joining us now to talk about how the country got to a point where a school would be attacked like this is Shuja Nawaz. He's a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council. Welcome to the program.
SHUJA NAWAZ: Thank you.
CORNISH: Pakistan's current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was elected to office last year with a promise of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Help us understand how we got to this point.
NAWAZ: Well, he came into office with a very strong position. But he was immediately confronted with the possibility that the military was getting ready for military action in the federally-administered tribal areas. And he was under pressure to show that he was willing to talk to the Taliban. So he favored the peace talks route. And it turned out to be a dead-end.
CORNISH: Meanwhile, there has been a splintering in the Pakistan Taliban, right? How has this changed things?
NAWAZ: The Pakistan Taliban have never really been a very strongly cohesive group. They've had various different regional leaders. So there are different groups, different criminal activities conducted on a regional basis. They all coalesce under the banner of the TTP.
CORNISH: So prior to today, was there any sense that the government offensive against militants was having any kind of affect?
NAWAZ: Yes. It had a very positive effect in the sense that it dislocated the command structures. It dislocated their training facilities in North Waziristan, where they found huge amounts of arms and ammunitions there that were destroyed. And they had to flee - the leadership had to flee its main headquarters. So it's disrupted their ability to function as a cohesive entity.
CORNISH: But did it just disperse them throughout the region and is that a problem now?
NAWAZ: Dispersion is always a problem because it makes it harder to find people, particularly now that the possibility of reverse sanctuary exists in Afghanistan. But the good news is that the Afghans and the Pakistanis are now talking to each other. And if they continue to collaborate then perhaps the sanctuary will no longer be available either to the Afghan Taliban or the Pakistani Taliban across the border.
CORNISH: Beyond drone strikes, to what extent has the U.S. been supporting Pakistan's domestic offensive against terrorists? And what do you think that relationship will look like as the U.S. draws down its presence in the region - in Afghanistan?
NAWAZ: I see this as an opportunity, particularly now that the intelligence and the military collaboration and cooperation seems to be on the mend. I see this as an opportunity to build up the capacity of Pakistan as a whole - not just the military but to build up the police services who are going to be critical in taking over the counterterrorism fight from the military after the military operations cease, and also to build up the civilian intelligence capacity and maybe assist the Pakistanis in coordinating intelligence.
It's interesting, Audie, that the army chief on Friday, actually at the end of the Corps Commanders' meeting in Rawalpindi, gave orders for coordinated intelligence operation in order to preempt militant attacks. It's almost as if they were expecting a revenge attack, and then it happened two days later.
CORNISH: Shuja Nawaz, you grew up in Pakistan. You've been writing about the country and its military for a very long time. For you personally, do you see this as a watershed moment?
NAWAZ: I'm hoping that it will be a watershed moment. But for it to become a watershed moment it will require a sea change among political leaders on the one hand and among civil society leaders on the other. Pakistan has a large middle class of about 50 million people. And it can coalesce and create political momentum of its own to force the civil and the political leadership to end the ambiguity about different militant groups. So long as Pakistan is willing to count on its militancy inside its country, these kind of events will continue to happen.
CORNISH: Shuja Nawaz, thank you so much for speaking with us.
NAWAZ: Thank you.
CORNISH: Shuja Nawaz - he is a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.