Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
When President Barack Obama unveiled his plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March, he promised to involve other countries with a stake in the region, including the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. But a major sticking point in enlisting regional support has been distrust over the United States’ long-term intentions for Afghanistan. Washington has never been able to shake off suspicions that it is using its battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda to establish a permanent military presence in the region.
In that context, Obama’s statement during his speech in Cairo that the United States is not seeking to set up permanent military bases in Afghanistan is rather interesting:
“Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.”
It will be worth watching to see whether the Obama administration is able to build on this to win more regional support for its policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But at the same time, it has to avoid feeding Pakistani fears that the United States might one day abruptly leave the region, just as it did when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.