Promising a “stronger and smarter” strategy to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama said that after years of mixed results he would not provide any “blank cheque” to Islamabad.
Obama signalled increased civilian assistance to Pakistan and Afghanistan would be linked to a new accountability — one that was absent in the Bush administration’s approach to the region.
Underlining the new approach he had set in motion, Obama said the US would pursue “constructive diplomacy” with India and Pakistan to reduce tensions between them. This, Washington believes, will allow the region to focus on the battle against extremists.
India, Obama said in Washington, must be part of a new “contact group” on “AfPak” (Afghanistan-Pakistan), which would include Iran, Russia, China, Central Asian states, the UN and key American allies.
He said terrorist groups threatened the stability of Pakistan. Top Al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri were now based in Pakistan and actively planning terror attacks on America, he said.
Islamabad, he said, would have to take action against high-level al-Qaeda targets on its soil even as the US would provide $1.5 billion annually for the next five years to develop the country.
“Opportunity zones” would be created along the border in Pakistan to allow people to live normal lives. All this, Obama said, was a “down payment” in efforts to protect terrorist attacks on America.
“Pakistan’s government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe havens, and we must isolate al-Qaeda from the Pakistani people,” he said.
Promising to send a total of 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, he revealed a new intolerance for corruption and those benefiting from the booming narcotics trade in the country. “Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people,” he said in implicit criticism of the Hamid Karzai government. Efforts to build a 1,34,000-strong Afghan army and an 82,000-man police force will be accelerated. He said the US would replicate in Afghanistan the success of reaching out to former adversaries in Iraq, though the two were different countries.