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Obama Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Receives High Marks

The new U.S. regional strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan unveiled by President Barack Obama last week has won the backing of both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. And earlier this week, 80 countries and organizations attended a U.N.-sponsored meeting on Afghan security and reconstruction.

President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan includes a pledge to deploy more troops to defeat al-Qaida militants and their allies, but also includes a greater emphasis on region diplomacy and economic development.

An American Perspective

Roy Gutman, foreign editor of McClatchy newspapers, is the author of a recent book on Afghanistan. He says not only are foreign leaders welcoming the Obama administration’s new strategy in the region, but it is also gaining bipartisan support in the United States. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA’s International Press Club, Gutman says the principal problem is the fact that al-Qaida, which started in Afghanistan in the 1990s and was forced to flee after 9/11 and the American invasion of Afghanistan, took root in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He says this is the first time the United States has ever had a strategy for the region.

In addition to committing 17,000 more U.S. troops and 4,000 trainers to Afghanistan, Gutman explains the new American strategy focuses on regional economic development and on diplomatic initiative. He notes that the Afghan economy is heavily dependent on opium poppy growing and heroin production. Instead, he says, “You need to help Afghans come up with real crops and a real economy.” And that means roads, schools, and local authorities.

In Pakistan, Gutman says, the issue centers on the tribal areas because it is there that radical organizations, like al-Qaida and the Taliban, can take root.

On the diplomatic side, Gutman says one of the biggest problems Washington faces is how to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan in a way that would prove mutually beneficial. Although American interests are the main object of U.S. policy, Gutman observes that “you can’t achieve them if you don’t work with those countries in terms of what they see as their interests.”

An Afghan Perspective

Afghan journalist Nabi Misdaq says the Obama strategy for Afghanistan is generally well-conceived, but notes many Afghans worry about the increase in U.S. troop levels. He says there needs to be more emphasis on reconstruction and on bringing dissidents, including members of the Taliban, into the Afghan government.

Misdaq says that unfortunately in the last seven years, there has been very little accountability, and most of the money for construction projects has not been delivered. However, he notes the presidential elections are coming in Afghanistan this summer. He says “if the right person is elected and his team is really dedicated to work for reconstruction, peace, and stability,” he is sure it will “make a lot of difference.”

A Pakistani Perspective

American University Professor Akbar Ahmed praises the new U.S. strategy. An anthropologist, journalist, diplomat, and former High Commissioner of Baluchistan province, Professor Ahmed was also in charge of the northwest tribal region of Waziristan. He warns of the enormity of the problems that must be overcome to help stabilize Pakistan.

Professor Ahmed says it is a much bigger challenge than President Obama and his team realize. If it is not implemented on the ground, he says he foresees “serious hurdles.” Professor Ahmed says the government of Pakistan needs to retake the tribal areas and reestablish its own authority there. “The administrators, like I was, have been marginalized in the last eight years, thanks to President Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship,” Professor Ahmed explains.

The new Pakistani government has to “focus on the madrassas, the religious schools,” he emphasizes. Unless they can be reformed, Professor Ahmed warns, thousands upon thousands of youngsters will come out of them “with very little on their mind except a desire to defend Islam.”

Professor Ahmed says Pakistan faces other major hurdles as well. Among them, he says are the political rift between President Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the tensions between the army and the government, and the “collapse of law and order in much of Pakistan.”

For example, he points to this week’s terrorist attack on the police training center outside Lahore, where eight people were killed. In claiming responsibility for the attack, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud said they were in retaliation for U.S. drone attacks that kill innocent people, particularly women and children.

Akbar Ahmed describes those drone attacks as an “unmitigated disaster.” In fact, he says, they create so much ill will that they are counter-productive.” They create anger and resentment in entire regions, he explains, and “put further pressure on a shaky Pakistani government and fuel anti-Americanism.”

An International Response

Meanwhile, on Tuesday in The Hague, officials from more than 70 countries and a dozen organizations at a U.N conference on Afghanistan stressed the importance of international and regional cooperation to rebuild the war-torn nation. They also agreed to work jointly to improve security and to foster economic and political development in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered reconciliation to Taliban members who stop fighting, renounce extremism, and accept the Afghan constitution.

The following day President Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari pledged closer cooperation in fighting Islamic terrorists during a summit meeting in Turkey with President Abdullah Gul.