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Pakistan a Key Factor in Obama's New Afghan Strategy


President Barack Obama said the United States will no longer define its relations with Pakistan narrowly and that the partnership will be built on mutual interest, respect and trust.

U.S. President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan by mid-2010, and plans to start withdrawing American forces after July 2011, depending on the situation on the ground. Some experts say the troop surge with a deadline is not ideal, but might reassure the region in more than one way.

In his speech, President Barack Obama said the United States will no longer define its relations with Pakistan narrowly and that the partnership will be built on mutual interest, respect and trust.

"We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," he said.

Columnist David Ignatius agrees with the president's move, saying Pakistan is a key factor in the new strategy, and the pressure on it must be increased.

"This president basically is rolling the dice, he is making the most important decision of his presidency, betting on his ability to work with Pakistan and get this shared problem of the two [Pakistani and Afghan] Talibans under control," he said.

Pakistan continues its crackdown on Pakistani Taliban militants in South Waziristan.

But Lisa Curtis at the Heritage Foundation says at the moment, they are not targeting the Afghan Taliban in the north.

There may be some in the Pakistani security environment, she says, who would like to see the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan. But the political leadership does not want that.

"So a part of the strategy is building up those elements in Pakistan that understand that having a stable and peaceful relationship with Afghanistan is actually in Pakistan's national security interest," she noted.

Clifford May at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says he hopes the Obama administration understands the importance of a regional approach, and of trying to encourage India and Pakistan to work together.

"The U.S. will need to put some pressure on India to make sure that India is helpful in every regard, because we are going to rely a lot on Pakistan to do a lot of heavy lifting and difficult work," he explained. "It is very important that Pakistan be reassured that it has no threat on its eastern borders."

Curtis says the surge will also reassure India that the Americans are there to stay and do not intend to cut and run, leaving behind an unstable Afghanistan and Pakistan, which would be a definite problem for India.

But she is concerned about the July 2011 deadline set by President Obama.

"I think this will reverberate very loudly in the region, and you will see it perceived especially by our enemies, by the Taliban and al-Qaida, as an admission that America is losing its will and is not committed over the long term, and they will be able to convince their recruits to wait the U.S. out," she added.

But Clifford May says it is an important point to make to the Afghans and the entire region that the U.S. is not going to stay there forever.

"I have met plenty of people in the region who think, 'Oh, you Americans, you want to be here forever. You want to live here, you want to colonize. You want to make this part of your empire. You want our resources,'" he noted.

The analysts say only time will tell if the new plan is capable of improving the situation in the region. But they say it sends an appropriate signal that says the U.S. will not give up, and at the same time the troops will not stay in the region a day more than they must. The civilian component responsible for development will remain there for the long term.

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