President Obama unveiled today the much awaited new AF-PAK policy. Addressing from Executive Office building, he strived for a “stronger, smarter and more comprehensive strategy” to confront the menace of Al Qaeda. While the cynics will just throw away the new policy as another hackneyed rhetoric from the U.S. President, it is imperative that one must go deep to bring out the ramifications of this outlined policy on Pakistan and on the region in the time to come. Let me first mention here the highlights of his new AF-PAK policy:
- He stressed to recognize the connection between the future prospects of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He unequivocally put this in these words, ”So let me be clear: Al-Qaeda and its allies the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
- He will be sending another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan along with hundreds of civilian specialists. The troops which are in addition to the 17,000 the president announced earlier, would be sent to Afghanistan will be charged with training and building the Afghan army and police force.
- He called upon Congress to pass a bill authorising a tripling of US spending in Pakistan to $1.5bn (£1.05bn) each year over the next five years, to help rebuild “schools, roads and hospitals”, which is also know as Kerry-Lugar bill.
- The United States will be seeking to work with the United Nations to develop “greater progress for its mandate to coordinate international action and assistance, and to strengthen Afghan institutions.”
One thing that stood out in his address was that he refrained from using the word ‘Talibans’ unlike his predecessor and he vilified only Al Qaeda. This suggests that the talk with Talibans, if they shun the support of Al Qaeda leadership, is not off the table. Otherwise there is no surprise here in the aforementioned main points of his policy yet the role of Pakistan in this ‘War on Terror’ will be increasing manifold in the near future, or at least that is what Obama expects from his ‘major non-NATO ally’. It is difficult not to envisage our President Zardari sitting in the President House grinning with the sigh of relief at the outcome of new oncoming U.S. aid to uplift the battered economy of our country, but what one should not undermine is the expectations that will be coming along with the U.S. treasury notes. Obama said this was “no blank cheque” – and Pakistan would have to show its own commitment to rooting out the “cancer” of Al-Qaeda and its allies. Furthermore there were no words on the ‘drone policy’ which suggests at the least the drone attacks will continue with the present frequency, if their envelope area is not expanded into Baluchistan. However, all this said, the U.S. is now eager to bring the regional players like China, Russia, India and Iran on the tables to forge a lasting solution of Afghanistan. Other World bodies like U.N will be playing a greater role now. So while the surge in troops in Afghanistan will continue the swift diplomacy of Clinton-Holbrooke in the region will try to complement it on the tables.
Our leaders should read the writing on the wall. The world led by Obama is serious about this war and to fight Al Qaeda. Obama will only declare the end of the war only when he feels satisfied that the terror facilities of Al Qaeda have been dismantled in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. has already announced a prize of $5 million on Baitullah Mashood, the head of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Even if the Pakistani authorities have shown lackadaisical approach to capture Baitullah the Obama administration is serious about him; make no mistake about it. It remains to be seen if Zardari and his cronies have taken a hint from his speech that signaled a coming storm towards Pakistan.
Update: Courtesy of Anders Lynch the Policy Officer with the US Department of State was kind enough to share the entire text of the Obama speech on this blog almost immediately after it was published. I share with you a text file which can be downloaded from here