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Pakistani spies under pressure after Obama outlines AfPak strategy

Article published on the 2009-03-27 Latest update 2009-03-28 09:25 TU

Barack Obama(Photo: Reuters)

Barack Obama
(Photo: Reuters)

Afghanistan has welcomed US President Barack Obama's new strategy, in which he has promised thousands more troops and a civilian surge of aid workers to combat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Obama outlined a strategy which will encourage neighbouring Pakistan to root out armed Islamists and put pressure on its spy network. He also invited Iran to join regional discussions on the question. Pakistan has welcomed the new strategy.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai immediately welcomed the proposals.

"This strategy and this review exactly corresponds to what we have been asking for," Karzai told reporters in Kabul. "This is better than we were expecting as a matter of fact."

The Afghans are keen to see Washington put pressure on Pakistan's intelligence services, the ISI, who have been accused of training Islamist militants to fight in Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.

US special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke says that he will visit Pakistan next week and that investigating the nuclear-armed nation's spy network "is the most important" question.

"The issue's very disturbing," Holbrooke said on public television when asked if Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was assisting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

"We cannot succeed if the two intelligence agencies are at each others' throat or don't trust each other and if the kind of collusion you referred to is factual."

On Friday Obama addressed Americans to try and convince them that it was worth investing money and sending more troops to Afghanistan.

"After many years, they ask, why do so many of our troops fight and die there," he said, reminding his audience of the 9/11 attacks on the US and the subsequent efforts to root out Al-Qaeda by toppling Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

Today, he said, Al Qaeda has "a safe haven in Pakistan".

"The future of Afghanistan is intricately linked to the fate of it's neighbour Pakistan," he said, adding that the armed Islamists have used "this mountainous terrain" as a safe place to hide and train terrorists.

Ahead of next Tuesday’s conference on Afghanistan at the Hague, Obama described the mountainous area around the Afghan-Pakistani border as "the most dangerous place in the world".

He appealed to Congress to pass a bill backed by members of both his Democrats and the Republicans which will provide 1.5 bn dollars to the Pakistani people every year for the next five years. He also pledged to establish security zones along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border.

But he insisted that Pakistan must work with the US to uproot Al-Qaeda and its allies.

Obama made no commitment to end US operations on Pakistani soil, despite President Asif Ali Zardari's appeal to end drone attacks, which have claimed many civilian lives and are not covered by any treaty between the two states.

Al-Qaeda's presence is not an American or an Afghan problem, he said, "it is, instead, an international challenge of the highest order."

The return of the Taliban to Afghanistan would mean "the denial of basic human rights to the Afghan people, especially women and girls", the President said, adding, "We're not in Afghanistan to control that country, nor to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to face a common enemy."

"The people of America must no longer deny resources to the people of Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq," Obama said, following his commitment to pull combat troops out of Iraq and send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Obama promised "a standing trilateral dialogue between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan" and encouraged Islamabad to have more peaceful relations with India.

In Afghanistan, the task is to "reverse the Talibans' gains and create a more accountable Afghan govenrment", he said, acknowledging the guerrillas' gains in parts of the country over the last couple of years. 

The new troops will "take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east" and provide security for the August presidential election.

The US military put new emphasis on training the Afghan security forces, and civilian aid workers will be sent to help reconstruction.

But there was implicit criticism of corruption and inefficiency under President Hamid Karzai's government, which is "undermined by corruption and inabliity to supply basic services to its people".

"We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption which causes Afghans to lose confidence in their own leaders," Obama said, adding that "the days of unaccountable spending and no-bid contracts, must end".

While pledging to continue military action against rebels, he advocated "a reconciliation process in every province" and efforts to win over sections of the Taliban, which would target "those who have taken up arms because of coercion or for a price".

Obama pledged to form a contact group with the UN, which would include Iran, Russia and China and said that the aim would be to meet his goals by 2011.

RFI will be reporting from the Hague conference on the radio and the web.