WASHINGTON: US Presidential candidates – Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain – vowed to continue war on terror and combating militancy along the Pak-Afghan border. Appearing Tuesday evening in their second debate weeks before the November 4 election, they took swipes at each other’s avowed Pakistan policy.But both White House rivals also saw the importance of working closely with Pakistan.
Obama, who has been using rhetoric on the issue of capturing al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden even if it meant crossing into Pakistani territory, said he never suggested the US invasion of Pakistan. He also stipulated his proposal on unilateral hunt of top al-Qaeda militants on the Pakistani territory, saying that the U.S should do so if Pakistan is not willing or able to act in the case of actionable intelligence.
Obama held the Bush Administration partly responsible for the situation in Pakistan. “We have a difficult situation in Pakistan. I believe that part of the reason we have a difficult situation is because we made a bad judgment going into Iraq in the first place when we hadn’t finished the job of hunting down bin Laden and crushing al-Qaeda.
“So what happened was we got distracted, we diverted resources, and ultimately bin Laden escaped.” He said the terrorists are now raiding American troops in Afghanistan, destabilizing the situation and are stronger now than at any time since 2001.
And that’s why I think it’s so important for us to reverse course, because that’s the central front on terrorism”. They are plotting to kill Americans right now. As Robert Gates, the defence secretary, said, the war against terrorism began in that region and that’s where it will end.
The Illinois senator argued that part of the reason it’s so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan, put more pressure on the Afghan government to do what it needs to do, eliminate some of the drug trafficking that’s funding terrorism.
But I do believe that we have to change our policies with Pakistan. We can’t coddle, as we did, a dictator, give him billions of dollars and then he’s making peace treaties with the Taliban and militants.
What I’ve said is we’re going to encourage democracy in Pakistan, expand our nonmilitary aid to Pakistan so that they have more of a stake in working with us, but insisting that they go after these militants”.
And if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.
Retorting to Obama’s suggestion, Senator McCain warned against talking loudly on the issue.
In fact, he (Obama) said he wants to announce that he’s going to attack Pakistan. Remarkable. You know, if you are a country and you’re trying to gain the support of another country, then you want to do everything you can that they would act in a cooperative fashion. “When you announce that you’re going to launch an attack into another country, it’s pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan:
It turns public opinion against us.” Instead, McCain called for cooperative efforts with Pakistan in the ongoing fight against terrorism and help for its government in going after militants. “Now, our relations with Pakistan are critical, because the border areas are being used as safe havens by the Taliban and al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations, and we have to get their support”.
“Now, General Petraeus had a strategy, the same strategy—very, very different, because of the conditions and the situation” but the same fundamental strategy that succeeded in Iraq. And that is to get the support of the people.
“We need to help the Pakistani government go into Waziristan, where I visited, a very rough country, and—and get the support of the people, and get them to work with us and turn against the cruel Taliban and others. “And by working and coordinating our efforts together, not threatening to attack them, but working with them, and where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.”
Retaliating to McCain’s criticism of his Pakistan position, Obama said he never proposed invading the South Asian country. “I want to be very clear about what I said. Nobody called for the invasion of Pakistan. Sen. McCain continues to repeat this. “What I said was the same thing that the audience here today heard me say, which is, if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to hunt down bin Laden and take him out, then we should. Now, that I think has to be our policy, because they are threatening to kill more Americans.”
He attacked McCain for proposing bombing of Iran. “Sen. McCain, this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of “speaking softly.” “This is the person who, after we had—we hadn’t even finished Afghanistan, where he said, “Next up, Baghdad.”
Obama also stated that the popular opinion of America “had diminished in Pakistan was because we were supporting a dictator, Musharraf, had given him $10 billion over seven years, and he had suspended civil liberties. We were not promoting democracy. “This is the kind of policies that ultimately end up undermining our ability to fight the war on terrorism, and it will change when I’m president.”
For his part, McCain rejected Obamaâ€™s salvo on his Iran bombing idea as untrue and assured the Americans that he will get hold of Osama bin Laden. “I understand what it’s like to send young American’s in harm’s way. I say—I was joking with a veteran—I hate to even go into this. I was joking with an old veteran friend, who joked with me, about Iran”.
“But the point is that I know how to handle these crises. And Sen.
Obama, by saying that he would attack Pakistan, look at the context of his words.
I’ll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I’ll get him. I know how to get him.”
Obama also slammed the Afghan government for not being responsive to the people’s needs.
“We’re also going to have to work with the Karzai government, and when I met with President Karzai, I was very clear that you are going to have to do better by your people in order for us to gain the popular support that’s necessary”.
I don’t think he has to be a dictator. And we want a democracy in Afghanistan. But we have to have a government that is responsive to the Afghan people, and, frankly, it’s just not responsive right now.-APP