INTERVIEW
 
Obama Afghan Plan Bad News for Pakistan
Islam Online
March 29, 2009
ISLAMABAD— Many experts believe US President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy will spell more trouble for the war-torn country's nearest neighbor, Pakistan, predicting increased pressure on America's key ally in its so-called war on terror.

"Obama’s speech has given a clear-cut message that he will adopt an aggressive policy vis-à-vis Pakistan’s tribal areas," Zahid Hussein, a political analyst, told IslamOnline.net.

Obama unveiled on Friday, March 27, a new strategy for tackling the increasingly-volatile situation in Afghanistan, with 4,000 more troops to be added to the 17,000 he had earlier decided to deploy.

Describing Pakistan border regions as the "most dangerous place in the world" for Americans, he vowed to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al-Qaeda.

Oama promised to triple US aid to Pakistan to 7.5 billion dollars over five years, demanding Pakistan to "demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al-Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders."

Experts fear that the new strategy means tough time for Pakistan, already reeling under years of deadly attacks by militants opposed to its decision to side with the US in its war on terror. "The troops surge in Afghanistan may increase cross border infiltration," believes Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, an associate professor at the International Relations Department of Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad.

"This will definitely increase military activities along the Pak-Afghan border, and Pakistan will have to perform accordingly as we don’t have many choices."

More than 1,700 people have been killed in a string of deadly attacks by militants opposed to Pakistan's role in America's war on terror in less than two years.

Stick & Carrot

Ahmad believes Obama is copying the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush.

"Most of the things are very much the same. And sending more troops to Afghanistan is contradictory to Obama’s early resolve to address the Afghan issue through non-military means."

Shameem Akhtar, a veteran political and security analyst, sees Obama's Afghanistan plan as confusing and complicated.

"It seems as if he prefers a military solution instead of a political solution of the Afghan problem."

Experts also note that the pledged aid package would not be price-free.

"America wants to help us, but simultaneously it also wants to maintain the pressure and link that to the level of performance [against militants]," says professor Ahmad.

Hussein, the political analyst, believes the package will bring more challenges for Pakistan and the onus was on the country to act.

"Now it is a testing time for Pakistan’s leadership to face this challenge."

Akhtar, the security analyst, doesn’t understand President Asif Zardari’s welcoming of the new strategy.

“Obama has very clearly said that he can not give a blank check to Pakistan. This is a clear signal for Pakistan to do more."

Akhtar, a former head of International Relations Department in the University of Karachi, sees the aid package as part of a stick and carrot strategy.

"Obama is using stick and carrot simultaneously. He has almost threatened Pakistan that if it doesn’t act against Al-Qaeda, then America will do that."

He fears that the US, which has suffered heavy losses in Afghanistan recently, will want Pakistani troops to stage "a full-fledged war" against Taliban to save its own troops.

Akhtar predicts that in return of the aid, Islamabad will have to tolerate more drone attacks not only in the tribal areas but in the southwestern Baluchistan province as well.

"If Pakistan bows to this demand just for 1.5 billion dollars, it will unleash a civil war in the country."

More than 35 US missile strikes have killed more than 340 people since August 2008, infuriating Pakistanis and sending them to the streets in protest.

Islamabad has repeatedly asked the US to reconsider such strikes, warning of a domestic backlash.

Akhtar, the security expert, believes that instead of cheering the new strategy, the Zardari government should "say sorry to the US this time."

"Though I don’t expect any miracle, but this is the wish of every Pakistani."