RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's turn now to how all of this is playing out on the ground. And for that, we're joined now by our two correspondents in the region. Julie McCarthy is in with us on the line from Islamabad in Pakistan and Quil Lawrence is in the Afghan capital Kabul. Good morning to you both.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning.
QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Quil, I'd like to start with you. The Obama administration has said that the key to ending the war in Afghanistan is to make sure Afghan forces can stand up and take control. And we just heard White House spokesman Ben Rhodes say that NATO cannot afford to fund the force - the Afghan force - at its current level. But setting aside quantity, what about quality? Are these Afghan troops on track to take over security for their own country?
LAWRENCE: On track, sure. But how long is that track and will they stay on that track? The Afghan public does seem to be taking a bit more pride in their army and their police after some recent incidents. But U.S. military officials say while the Afghan forces are moving into the lead position in many areas, none of them are yet able to stand on their own in terms of planning, logistics, resupply, especially air support and the ability to get their wounded soldiers to medical care. And another question lying behind the quality of the military here is the military and political leadership, which still looks a lot like the surviving combatants from Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s. So even if a very competent army is built, many are still worried about a lack of unity against the Taliban threat and also against other internal divisions.
MARTIN: I want to turn now to Julie. U.S. forces in Afghanistan were dealt a logistical blow last year when Pakistan shut down this key supply route between Pakistan and Afghanistan along the border. This was in retaliation for a U.S. attack along the border that killed 24 Pakistani troops. Now, Pentagon officials have said that this is going to come up in Chicago at the NATO summit. From what you're hearing, Julie, is Pakistan willing to reopen this route?
MCCARTHY: Yes. Because they fear a growing sense of isolation and they don't want to lose any more leverage in this Afghan end game. The blockade has forced NATO to use alternative routes that are longer and more expensive. So, to restore some goodwill, Pakistan is negotiating with the Americans to reopen these supply lines. But the big stumbling block is money. For the first time, Pakistan is demanding fees. You know, these NATO convoys rip up their roads, the militants attack the trucks. So, it now wants money, and Pakistan seems to be calculating that the U.S. will pay a very dear price, especially given the fact that a withdrawal from Afghanistan looms and Pakistan is really the fastest way out. But U.S. officials say privately, Rachel, that the Pakistani requests are exorbitant and a non-starter. And you've got a stalemate that looks set to last for a while. But a quick caveat here: four diplomatic containers did cross into Afghanistan, bound for the U.S. embassy there for the first time in six months.
MARTIN: I want to ask both of you what you're hearing as far as a negotiated settlement that the Obama administration says is going to ultimately end this war. Julie, what are Pakistan's concerns moving forward?
MCCARTHY: Boy, the big concern is be left out of those negotiations and the Taliban talking directly to the Americans. Historically, Pakistan has had this close association with the Taliban, and the Pakistanis feel that they're in a better position to deliver the goods than anybody else. But it's not been tested, so no one knows if that's true or not. But the end of the Afghan war also trains attention on Pakistan - that's the bigger frame - with policymakers arguing that, you know, an unstable nuclear-armed state poses a far bigger threat maybe than Afghanistan.
MARTIN: And, Quil, what does the end of the war look like from the Afghan perspective?
LAWRENCE: We can't necessarily see the end of the war from here. You heard the White House saying that they're interested in the Taliban coming to the table if they can reject al-Qaida and accept the Afghan constitution. But it seems like the possibility of a peace deal has been suspended at least for the time being.
MARTIN: And we just heard White House spokesman Ben Rhodes very clearly that Afghans want the U.S. out. They are ready to govern their own country. Is that true among the Afghans you talk with? Are most just ready to see the U.S. leave?
LAWRENCE: There's such a change from years ago when Americans were welcomed here with a genuine affection. There's been a string of provocative incidents, from the burning of the Quran to the massacre of civilians in the south. At the same time, I rarely speak with anyone who isn't afraid of a U.S. departure. They worry about Iran and Pakistan interfering in Afghan affairs. They worry about Afghan warlords fighting each other again. So, there's sort of a grudging realization now that Afghanistan still isn't really able to do it without some help.
MARTIN: Quil Lawrence in Kabul and Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. Thanks to you both.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
LAWRENCE: Thank you.
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