Pakistan's Minister Trying To Fix Ties With U.S.

by
aliciawesly2
Islamabad, Pakistan -- The photo shows Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik standing alongside U.S. Senator John Kerry, their heads conspiratorially tilted towards each other.

Islamabad, Pakistan -- The photo shows Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik standing alongside U.S. Senator John Kerry, their heads conspiratorially tilted towards each other.

They are obviously deep in discussion, though it appears to be a discussion on the sidelines, a private word amidst more formal discussions.

It is these up-close and personal ties that Malik prides himself on; relationships that cut through bureaucracy and make things happen. He is equal parts salesman, diplomat and politician.

He is going to need to be all of that and more to right a relationship with the United States that has veered dangerously off track.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik chats with U.S. Senator John Kerry in Pakistan earlier this week


Dapper is the word that best suits Malik. His hair is perfectly coiffed, his ties strong and bold, his suits are sharply tailored.

"I am Taliban and al Qaeda's number one target," he tells me.

Malik has made a habit of publicly criticizing the militants, often going against the grain in a country that is suspected by those in foreign political and intelligence circles, of playing a double game: aligning itself with the United States on the one hand, while secretly supporting and even financing insurgents.

Why? Because the terror network is another handy line of defense against Pakistan's age old foe: India.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden brought all those tensions and deeply held suspicions to the surface. What was he doing in Pakistan? Why didn't Pakistan intelligence know?

Even President Barack Obama was moved to assume somebody with inside knowledge must have been supporting bin Laden.

Pakistan's leaders hit back by accusing the U.S. of disrespecting their country's sovereignty and invading Pakistan air space during the secret bin Laden raid.

Kerry, head of the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was dispatched to Islamabad to try to calm the waters. In his words "press the re-set button" on a strategically vital partnership.

Suddenly the language changed: no more finger pointing. Indeed, Kerry said there was no evidence to suggest any official Pakistani collusion with bin Laden. Beyond that he refused to speculate.

In the days since Kerry and Malik put their heads together, there has been a noticeable shift in mood.

Pakistan has agreed to return what remains of the high-tech stealth helicopter left behind during the bin Laden raid. And the talk now is of compromise, cooperation, intelligence sharing and, above all for Pakistan, respect.

"What we want is recognition. We want joint action, joint intelligence you know what is important for Pakistan is self respect," Malik says.

He concedes some Pakistani failure by not finding bin laden. But he bristles at any suggestion that his government would do deals with terrorists.

Pakistani people, he says, are paying for this war in their own blood every day. He points out more than 30,000 civilians have been killed in terror related attacks since 2001.

The Taliban mocks the Pakistan government as a lackey of the United States, and is vowing to go after Pakistani targets.

The Pakistan Taliban's number two commander, Wali Ur Rehman, has in recent days released video calling the Pakistan military weak and warning to expect more attacks in revenge for bin Laden's death.

Malik scoffs at this. "We are not weak. Don't let our enemy tell you that. We are attacking them every day, we have broken their back."

And yet the militant attacks continue. On Friday a convoy of U.S. embassy vehicles was targeted by a car bomb outside the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar. One by-stander was killed but it could easily have been more.

Just a week earlier, also in Peshawar, a Taliban double suicide bombing which killed more than 80 military recruits, just finishing their training.

Malik points to these attacks and challenges anyone to accuse Pakistan of a double-game.

"We never played a double game; we are sincere from day one. Maybe we are not as efficient as the U.S. but believe me, my heart breaks when someone says my country is playing a double game," he says.

CNN