Obama's policy review By Masood Sharif Khan Khattak DATED Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In his speech President Obama said: "The situation is increasingly perilous. It's been more than seven years since the Taliban was removed from power, yet war rages on, and insurgents control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan." What Obama said is obviously a matter of concern for Pakistan and Afghanistan because these two countries have literally been torn apart because of the seemingly endless war on terror. But is peace going to come through more military operations or through political initiatives? This is a question that the US review team needs to ponder upon once more. The time for peace initiatives had arrived long ago. New and bold peace initiatives are now warranted if this region is to have durable peace.
We must not lose sight of the proven fact that long-drawn low-intensity wars are mostly won by unconventional forces and with each passing day new militants are motivated and recruited. The cycle can only be stopped through political initiatives and not military operations alone. It is in America's own interest that a quick political solution is now found to the Afghan problem--i.e., before there is an irresistible outcry from within USA itself to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Obama went on to say: "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbour, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, Al Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. For the American people, this border region (read FATA) has become the most dangerous place in the world." This part of the speech is something that ought to be a matter of great concern to Pakistan because it shifts the emphasis of the American military effort to Pakistan's north-western regions where drone attacks are usual occurrences. If Pakistan does not alert itself then the drone attacks being supplemented by ground incursions cannot be too far away.
President Obama said: "The United States has great respect for the Pakistani people. They have a rich history and have struggled against long odds to sustain their democracy. The people of Pakistan want the same things that we want: an end to terror, access to basic services, the opportunity to live their dreams, and the security that can only come with the rule of law." This part of Obama's speech gives a clear indication that the US, in future, is going to deal with the people of Pakistan through whoever, at any point of time, actually represents the popular will of the Pakistani people. The US has realised that it became very unpopular with the people of Pakistan when it supported Musharraf against their will and that it should now make an effort to work with Pakistan in consonance with the pulse of the Pakistani nation.
While talking about supporting Pakistan President Obama said: "And after years of mixed results, we will not, and cannot, provide a blank check." Most Pakistanis would have been happier if Pakistan had brought its adverse internal situation under control through its own resources and be counted as a self-respecting progressive nation that values peace and the rule of law as a matter of choice.
President Obama was very unambiguous when he said: "Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken, one way or another, when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets." These words indicate very clearly that there will be no free lunches. The US resolve to sort matters beyond the niceties of respecting things called sovereignty and international borders is also quite apparent.
President Obama said: "To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people." These words have been very heartening because Pakistanis by and large have had this as the biggest impediment in the US-Pakistan relations. While the people of Pakistan have been engaged in struggles for democracy the US has mostly been backing the usurpers in Pakistan. President Obama himself said: "And to demonstrate through deeds as well as words a commitment that is enduring, we must stand for lasting opportunity. A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone." If the US truly wants to stand for a lasting opportunity then the 1.5 billion dollars aid to Pakistan every year must be exclusively, repeat exclusively, spent on development projects only in the NWFP, FATA and Balochistan. A foreseeable adverse situation in Balochistan needs to be averted. Obama himself said: "But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future."
Referring to Afghanistan Obama said: "And I want to be clear: We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behaviour, and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people." It is quite obvious that the new US administration's thinking on Pakistan too would be much the same.
The writer is a former director-general of the Intelligence Bureau and former vice-president of the PPP Parliamentarians. Email: email@example.com