Q+A-Can Obama secure more Pakistani help on Afghanistan?

Thu Dec 3, 2009 1:57am EST


By Michael Georgy

ISLAMABAD, Dec 3 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has said the United States would not tolerate Pakistan allowing its territory to be a safe haven for militants and urged it to fight the "cancer" of extremism.

In his address to unveil a strategy for the eight-year war in Afghanistan, he said the United States would help Pakistan root out militants in the tribal border area between the two countries.[ID:nN02527192]

Here are some questions and answers on the implications of Obama's Afghanistan strategy for Pakistan, where many doubt that an additional 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan will lead to stability in the region.

WILL PAKISTAN'S MILITARY COOPERATE?

Pakistan's all-powerful military, seen as directing the country's Afghanistan foreign policy, will not take kindly to more pressure from Washington. The United States, and President Asif Ali Zardari, angered the military and many ordinary Pakistanis by signing a $7.5 billion conditional aid package seen as a humiliating violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

Aside from financial support, which would likely raise more suspicions, there may be little the United States can do to help Pakistan's military and its intelligence network, which has more years of experience than anyone else in dealing with the Taliban. Pakistan's ISI spy agency provided heavy support for the Taliban in their war against Soviet occupation troops which were driven out of Afghanistan.

And there are no signs Pakistan will shift the bulk of its troops, which are based on the border with its arch-rival India, to the border with Afghanistan to fight militants focused on fighting Western troops in Afghanistan.

ARE OBAMA'S EXPECTATIONS UNREALISTIC?

It's a complex issue. The Pakistani Taliban is not one organisation. It is made up of disparate, tribal-based groups united by the same cause of eventually toppling the government and installing a harsh form of Islamic rule. The military is concentrating on those groups. Washington also wants Pakistan to root out Taliban fighters launching raids into Afghanistan from the 2,640 km (1,640 miles), porous, lawless border.

But that would entail strategic sacrifices for Pakistan's military, which sees them as leverage against the influence of arch-rival India in Afghanistan, which it fears would spread in the event of a hasty U.S. pullout like the one which left the battered country on its own to explode after the Russians pulled out in 1989. A July 2011 date for U.S. troops to start leaving Afghanistan reinforces those fears. The last thing Pakistan needs is militants responding to a U.S. troops surge by crossing over its borders, or worse, another civil war in Afghanistan.

WHAT ABOUT PUBLIC SENTIMENT?

Anti-U.S. feelings are running high and suspicions of American intentions are likely to grow if Obama's government is seen to be calling the shots on Pakistan's national security issues.

Zardari, hounded by corruption allegations, is fighting for his political survival and public confidence in his government has plummeted. The uncertainty has helped give rise to relentless speculation and suspicions which underscore how tough it may be for Washington to win over Pakistanis.

Televisions viewers are bombarded by conspiracy theories, such as one that the United States is plotting against Pakistan. Some believe U.S. agents are behind retaliatory bombings which have killed hundreds of people since the Pakistani military launched a big offensive in October.

The mistrust is so deep that some newspapers have tried to focus attention on a private U.S. security company, which they accuse of flying in hundreds of guards into Pakistan in the middle of the night for clandestine activities. Photographs of houses one newspaper said belonged to employees of the company have been published. (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, click [ID:nAFPAK] and here) ((Editing by Sanjeev Miglani; E-mail: michael.georgy@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: michael.georgy.reuters.com@reuters.net; Islamabad newsr oom: +92 51 281 0017)) (If you have a query or comment about this story, send an e-mail to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.