Obama on Pakistan: commitment or contradiction?

March 21, 2008

barack obama/john sommersFor those who missed, it’s worth looking closely at Barack Obama’s latest comments on Pakistan made in a speech this week in which he repeats a call for the United States to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide. This is where extremism poses its greatest threat.”

His plan is to rethink U.S. policy towards Pakistan — which has traditionally depended on cooperation with the military rather than civilian governments — to bolster the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people, condition aid to Pakistan on its action against al Qaeda,  and show Pakistan that America is on its side.

But then comes the rub.  If the United States has intelligence about al Qaeda targets hiding in Pakistan then America should act if Pakistan will not, or cannot do so, he says.  So far that has meant sending in unmanned Predator aircraft to fire missiles at suspected Islamist hideouts, often leading to civilian casualties and outraging Pakistanis who feel their sovereignty has been violated.

So is there a contradiction in Obama’s commitment to Pakistan? Can the United States win over the people if it is also firing missiles at targets in its territory? Here is the whole excerpt:

“For years, we have supported stability over democracy in Pakistan, and gotten neither. The core leadership of al Qaeda has a safe-haven in Pakistan. The Taliban are able to strike inside Afghanistan and then return to the mountains of the Pakistani border. Throughout Pakistan, domestic unrest has been rising. The full democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people have been too long denied. A child growing up in Pakistan, more often than not, is taught to see America as a source of hate – not hope.

“This is why I stood up last summer and said we cannot base our entire Pakistan policy on President Musharraf. Pakistan is our ally, but we do our own security and our ally no favors by supporting its President while we are seen to be ignoring the interests of the people. Our counter-terrorism assistance must be conditioned on Pakistani action to root out the al Qaeda sanctuary. And any U.S. aid not directly needed for the fight against al Qaeda or to invest in the Pakistani people should be conditioned on the full restoration of Pakistan’s democracy and rule of law.

File photo of child at Benazir Bhutto’s grave“The choice is not between Musharraf and Islamic extremists. As the recent legislative elections showed, there is a moderate majority of Pakistanis, and they are the people we need on our side to win the war against al Qaeda. That is why we should dramatically increase our support for the Pakistani people – for education, economic development, and democratic institutions. That child in Pakistan must know that we want a better life for him, that America is on his side, and that his interest in opportunity is our interest as well. That’s the promise that America must stand for.

“And for his sake and ours, we cannot tolerate a sanctuary for terrorists who threaten America’s homeland and Pakistan’s stability. If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot. Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all distorted and derided this position, suggesting that I would invade or bomb Pakistan. This is politics, pure and simple. My position, in fact, is the same pragmatic policy that all three of them have belatedly – if tacitly – acknowledged is one we should pursue. Indeed, it was months after I called for this policy that a top al Qaeda leader was taken out in Pakistan by an American aircraft. And remember that the same three individuals who now criticize me for supporting a targeted strike on the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, are the same three individuals that supported an invasion of Iraq – a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. “


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Obama’s makes it sound as if he is the only candidate on top of the issues as far as foreign policy and Pakistan and Afghanistan are concerned. However the face is, and he states it himself, that the other two candidates are more then likely to pursue a similar Pakistan policy to his.

His speech back in the summer caused a lot of anger amongst the Pakistani community, both at home and abroad. Many of them would have otherwise supported him. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Now there is only confusion and more frustration amongst ordinary Pakistanis over the designs of the American leadership

It is also interesting to note Obama using the story of a Pakistani child to back his arguments. However many in the country would question why an American president would really care about children in their country. They have seen what has happened in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Solely concerned with the War on Terror and intoxicated in its pursuit of oil and other natural resources, humanitarian and social developments have been a definite backburner in the agendas of the American administration. Why should the Pakistani child believe Obama? Is he really all that different? That remains to be seen.

Posted by Syed | Report as abusive

Barack Obama’s latest comments on Pakistan made in a speech this week in which he repeats a call for the United States to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan is part of his dirty tactics to win Presidential Elections.

It seems he is grossly mistaken in his perception about Pakistan. For his information, Pakistan is homeland of peaceful, talented, progressive, and moderate people. It has no connection to extremism and terrorism; in fact these are all USA fabricated stories!!!

Posted by kamal khan | Report as abusive

The comments about actionable intelligence aside, there is a meaningful difference in what Obama has been saying. McCain has offered cranky, unconditional support to Musharraf even through the depths of the Emergency. And Clinton has been fairly supportive of Musharraf until very recently as well.

Posted by Kabir | Report as abusive

8/19/08 Obama’s remarks on Pakistan trouble me greatly and makes me rethink my support of him.(I will not of course vote for McCain. He thinks too much along military lines while I think America’s challenge in the future will be economic, not military. McCain is simply not the man for these times). An invasion of Pakistan will not be tolerated by them any more than a military invasion of our country by another country for any reason would be tolerated by us. It will mean another war. National sovereignties cannot be treated lightly. I think that with two wars already on our hands and a host of domestic worries(a growing recession,etc.)we simply do not need to substitute one war(in Iraq)for another(in Pakistan). It is time to get away from the war path and mind our own business while we still have some business to mind.
Re.AlQaeda and Osama, I think we should treat them as we would a coin that rolled into a sewer. It is simply not worth distracting ourselves from much more serious problems at home.(Besides getting rid of Osama will not end terrorism or jihad. It is written in the Koran(i.r.sura 8,verses 12ff,sura 5 v.51,etc.))Our enemy is not primarily Osama, rather it is the ghost of Mohammed.

Posted by marvin melzer | Report as abusive