March 28, 2009 / 1:07 AM / 11 years ago

ANALYSIS-Obama move faces obstacles in Pakistan

* Many Pakistanis see Afghanistan as "American problem"

* Deep suspicion of government in Pakistan border regions

* Analyst: ‘failure is an option’

(Adds comment by U.S. intelligence official, paragraph 5)

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s goal of defeating al Qaeda in Pakistan faces myriad hurdles including the country’s weak civilian government and infighting among its military and intelligence services.

Obama on Friday unveiled a new war strategy for Afghanistan with a central aim: crushing al Qaeda there and in neighboring Pakistan more than seven years after the group orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States from Afghanistan.

(For full coverage of the Afghan conflict [ID:nSP437509])

Obama said the group — and almost certainly its leader, Osama bin Laden — had moved across the border to Pakistan and that the two countries were inextricably linked. He outlined plans to boost economic and military aid to Pakistan to help Islamabad go after al Qaeda and its militant allies.

While analysts praised the focus on Pakistan in Obama’s approach, they said it will be hard to carry out in a country that has never truly controlled some border regions where there is deep-seated suspicion of the central government.

And a senior U.S. intelligence official predicted that violence in Afghanistan "is probably going to go up in 2009, no matter what." The official, speaking to reporters, added: "It’s going to go up, either because we are clearing the Taliban out of these areas and of course they will resist, or because we are ineffective and the Taliban are clearing themselves back into it, or shooting themselves back into these areas."

Pakistan’s action will require institutional and popular support despite a view among many Pakistanis that the Afghan war is an American problem and allegations that Pakistani intelligence operatives support the Afghan insurgency.

"The Pakistanis feel as though we treat them as a rent-an-army," said Alex Thier, an analyst at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"We give them money and in exchange they engage in a domestically unpopular battle in their frontier ... and they do so somewhat halfheartedly while continuing to support the Afghan Taliban that have safe haven in Pakistan," he said.

The job also may be complicated by tensions among the year-old civilian government led by President Asif Zardari; the military, which has ruled the country for more than half its 61-year existence; and the intelligence services.

"Clearly the government leadership class, which includes the military and the intelligence community in Pakistan, are really not aligned at all," said Rick Barton, a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the CSIS think tank.


In laying out his strategy, Obama did not minimize the difficulties in Pakistan but said, "We will insist that action be taken, one way or another, when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets."

Obama said the United States could no longer provide a "blank check" to Pakistan — suggesting aid would come with conditions — and he also sought to break with the history of U.S. administrations supporting military rulers in Pakistan.

Among the carrots Obama dangled are calls for at least $1.5 billion a year over five years in fresh economic assistance to Pakistan and plans to create "opportunity zones" to spur development in the notoriously poor and lawless border areas.

It is not clear, however, what sticks are available if Pakistan does not follow through.

"My view has been that failure is an option," said Stephen Cohen, a South Asia scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank. "No matter what we do and no matter how hard we try, we may fail to transform Pakistan or at least push Pakistan in a direction that we feel is essential.

"On the other hand, I think we have to make that effort," he said. "A truly failed Pakistan would be catastrophic.

James Dobbins, a former U.S. special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan now at the Rand Corporation think tank, said the support of nations such as China may help push Pakistan in the direction Obama wants.

"Two years ago, Iraq was hopeless and Afghanistan was ‘the good war,’" Dobbins said. "Today, Iraq looks like it it’s going well and Afghanistan is suddenly the quagmire. So things can change. Deteriorating situations can be turned around." (Additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen, editing by Bill Trott)

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