NEW YORK: U.S. presidential candidates—Republican John McCain and Democratic Barack Obama—Friday differed on Pakistan, especially over U.S. attacks into Pakistani territory, a policy which Islamabad had sharply protested. During the first of a series of televised debates ahead of the November election, McCain, 74, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan’s support said, he would not publicly state a policy of attacking militants in Pakistan, saying Pakistani support Democratic rival, Obama, responded that the United States should attack militants if Pakistan were unwilling to do so—highlighting a difference over Pakistan policy.
In the debate held at Oxford, Mississippi, Obama said $10 billion in aid to the Pakistan government over the last seven years had failed to rid the border region of al Qaeda and Taliban militants. “If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out,” he said.
McCain called for a quiet policy.
“You don’t say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government,” he said. He said support from the Pakistani people was necessary. He cautioned that newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari has his “hands full” and said “this area on the border has not been governed since the days of Alexander the Great.” “I’m not prepared at this time to cut off aid to Pakistan,” he said.
The debate also saw a little role reversal. It was Obama who seemed more aligned with President George W. Bush’s current policy of authorizing American Special Forces to cross the Afghan-Pakistan border into Pakistan’s tribal areas.
In one of the more heated moments of the debate, Obama argued that he would take the war to Osama bin Laden’s cave door, whether Pakistan cooperated or not. And it was McCain, who argued that without Pakistan’s cooperation, any such operation was doomed.
At its core, the candidate’s argument is about the “central front” in the war on terrorism. Obama said it was, and always has been, Pakistan’s tribal areas and the neighboring areas of Afghanistan.-SANA