US offers Pak cheque on terror
US President Barack Obama on Friday unveiled his plan for winning the war on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan describing Al Qaida and its extremist allies as a “cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within” and noting that the future of Afghanistan is “inextricably linked” to that of Pakistan. “If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it is likely to have ties with Al Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan,” Obama said, adding: “The safety of people around the world is at stake”.
The US President also sought support for legislation co-sponsored by Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar that would increase US financial aid to Pakistan. But, he also warned that the US would “not provide a blank check” and expected results from the Pakistani government. “Pakistan,” he insisted, “must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al Qaida and the violent extremists within its borders. We will insist that action be taken - one way or another - when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
The Kerry-Lugar bill authorises $1.5 billion in direct support to Pakistan every year over the next five years. Obama said these resources would be used to build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy. “Al Qaida offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction,” he added.
Making a break from past US policy, Obama said America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq.
The US President has directed 17,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan as well as 4,000 military trainers, who will arrive later this spring. These soldiers and Marines will fight the Taliban in the south and east. He said the emphasis now would be on training and increasing the size of the Afghan security forces. “That is how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our troops home,” he said, adding: “Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan army of 1,34,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011,” he added.
A contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan will also be set up to bring together America’s NATO allies, central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran, Russia, India and China
Saying terrorists within Pakistan’s borders are not simply enemies of the US or Afghanistan but a grave danger to the people of Pakistan, the US President noted that Al Qaida and other violent extremists have killed several thousand Pakistanis since September 11, 2001, assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. “Most of the blood on Al Qaida’s hands is the blood of Muslims, who Al Qaida has killed and maimed in far greater numbers than any other people,” Obama noted.
“I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: To disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. To the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you”.
But, Obama acknowledged that going after Al Qaida was no simple task. He emphasised the need to focus US military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists.
Explaining the US presence in Afghanistan, Obama cited the presence of Al Qaida and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that Al Qaida is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe-haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban or allows Al Qaida to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can,” the US President said.
He noted that the Al Qaida leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, were “certainly” among those extremists hiding in Pakistan. “They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe-haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan,” he said.
Obama said the US would pursue “constructive diplomacy” with India and Pakistan to lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed neighbours that “too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation.”
The Obama administration’s “AfPak” policy review is the result of consultations with US military commanders and diplomats, the Afghan and Pakistani governments, US allies and NATO, and with other donors and international organisations.
The US President said American troops were not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. “We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the US, our friends and allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan who have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists,” he said.