Obama says Pakistan used U.S. aid to prepare for war against India

September 6, 2008

Senator Obama speaks in Milwaukee/Allen FredricksonSenator Barack Obama has accused Pakistan of misusing U.S. military aid meant to help it fight al Qaeda and the Taliban to prepare for war against India. In an interview with Fox News he also says the United States must put more pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants, hold it accountable for increased military support, and be prepared to act aggressively against al Qaeda; “if we have bin Laden in our sights, we target him and we knock him out,” he says. However he adds that “nobody talked about some full-blown invasion of Pakistan.”

The latter part of his comments is not that new, nor indeed that different from the policies of the current U.S. administration. But it is his comment about India that has been seized upon by the media in South Asia. ”We are providing them military aid without having enough strings attached. So they’re using the military aid that we use, to Pakistan, they’re preparing for war against India,” he says.

You can see the stories in The Times of India and Dawn here and here

File photo of army tank in summer exercies/Asim TanveerIt will be interesting to see if Obama expands on those comments next week, either in the Fox News interview (so far only the early part has been released) or elsewhere. The main question is how the United States would try to convince the Pakistan Army to turn its full force against al Qaeda and the Taliban on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, while easing up on its traditional preoccupation of defending its border with India. Holding Pakistan accountable for U.S. military aid is one thing; changing the psychology of the Pakistan Army is quite another.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Obama has said the U.S. war in Afghanistan would be made easier if the United States worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan. “A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India,” he told a news conference in Amman back in July.

So pressure on Pakistan to crack down harder on al Qaeda and the Taliban is likely to be accompanied by U.S. pressure on India to make peace with its much smaller neighbour. But India deeply resents any outside interference in its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue.

The United States desperately needs Pakistan’s help to avoid a humiliating failure in Afghanistan.  But it is also anxiously courting India (as highlighted by the U.S.-India nuclear deal) as it realigns its alliances in Asia to deal with an increasingly powerful China. 

So what gives?

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