Obama to meet Afghan, Pakistani leaders on strategy
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama presents his strategy for defeating al Qaeda to the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan on Wednesday amid growing U.S. concern that it is losing the war and neither is a reliable ally.
The White House meetings with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are likely to be cagey affairs -- both visitors have been heavily criticized by Obama's administration and are also wary of each other.
Equally, Obama's new strategy for defeating al Qaeda and Taliban militants operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan has not been universally welcomed in either country.
It will be Obama's first face-to-face meeting with the two men to discuss his new regional strategy and is a chance to air his concerns about corruption and poor governance.
One of the biggest challenges will be to convince Pakistan to take the threat of Islamist militancy seriously and prevent the Taliban from using its soil to attack Afghanistan, a major bone of contention between Islamabad and Kabul.
"Pakistanis have a fundamental doctrinal disjuncture with what's happening because they are ... geared to dealing with India while they are facing marauders from the west," said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration.
With Taliban fighters moving closer to Islamabad, Admiral Michael Mullen told a Navy League conference on Monday he was "increasingly concerned" about the country.
"Over the past year there has been a gradual erosion and increase in the terrorist threat there," said Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As it seeks reliable allies in the region, the United States, which has funneled $10 billion in aid to Islamabad over the past eight years, can sometimes give conflicting signals. At times it has praised Pakistan's military and at others accused it and its powerful spy agency of helping al Qaeda.
"Some have raised concern that elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services may be sympathetic to militant groups, leading to caution on our part," Obama's undersecretary of defense for policy, Michele Flournoy, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee last week.
Obama is calling for additional $1.5 billion in spending annually for five years to boost civilian development in Pakistan as part of his strategy for the region.
PAKISTAN DEVELOPMENT AID SOUGHT
U.S. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar introduced a bill on Monday to authorize the funds, primarily for projects like roads, schools and hospitals. Kerry said while the funding was mainly intended for civilian projects, the administration could submit a plan directing some of it to military uses.
Congress is considering an additional $2.3 billion in aid for Pakistan, including $400 million for counterinsurgency.
While requesting huge boosts in assistance for Pakistan, the U.S. administration has sounded increasingly frustrated with the civilian government.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Islamabad of abdicating to the Taliban by agreeing to impose Islamic law in the Swat valley and Obama has expressed concern the government is "very fragile" and unable to deliver basic services.
As he seeks to wind down the war in Iraq, Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has won some praise for its focus on boosting aid and development and not relying entirely on a military solution to the fight against al Qaeda.
"Today the war is being lost in Afghanistan, but is not yet lost," Bruce Riedel, an author of Obama's strategy, wrote in a piece for the Brookings Institution last week. "President Obama has decided to send the resources to the war to break the movement of the Taliban. He is right to do so."
But some argue it does not go far enough to change past policies that have failed to yield results.
Many Pakistanis are angry that U.S. drone attacks have continued under Obama. Aimed at al Qaeda's leaders, the strikes from unmanned aircraft have often killed civilians.
Others complain the United States has undermined democracy in Pakistan for decades by supporting its powerful military.
Hawks in the Pakistani establishment fear Karzai's government is too close to arch-rival India and see support for the Taliban as a way of maintaining influence in Afghanistan.
(Editing by Simon Denyer and Chris Wilson)
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