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Obama commits to robust economic, security support for Pakistan, expects action against al-Qaeda

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WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday committed his administration to support democratic Pakistan with robust economic and much?needed security aid as he declared a relentless regional effort to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al-Qaeda along Pakistan?Afghanistan border region.

Outlining Washington’s widely anticipated ‘comprehensive’ strategy ? the result of about two?month review of the U.S. policy for the restive regions ? Obama said al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistani border areas are “actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from a safe haven in Pakistan.”

The people of the United States and Pakistan face a common threat in the form of al-Qaeda, he stressed, pledging a lasting US partnership with the Pakistani people and unstinted support for its democratic advancement.“To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistani people. And to demonstrate through deeds as well as words a commitment that is enduring, we must stand for lasting opportunity.”

Under the new plan, U.S. military expenses in Afghanistan ? currently about $2 billion a month ? would increase by about 60 percent this year as about 70,000 international forces, led by the United States struggle against an spiraling Taliban insurgency, seven and a half years after post?9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.

Obama advocated that the U.S. steps backing Pakistan “are indispensable to our effort in Afghanistan, which will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border.”At the same time, he acknowledged that military actions alone will not address the problem of violent extremism.

He promised to provide military assistance to Pakistan and urged the U.S. Congress to pass measures to bolster economic development in the country to help the South Asian ally ride out a difficult mix of economic and security challenges.“It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al?Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, they are rugged and they are often ungoverned.

“That is why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs in rooting out terrorists and after years of mixed results, we cannot and will not provide a blank cheque. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al?Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.“We will insist action be taken one way or the other when we have intelligence about high?level targets.”

Obama, who Thursday called President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the strategy, said the Pakistani government’s ability to destroy these safe?havens is tied to its own strength and security.“To help Pakistan weather the economic crisis, we must continue to work with the IMF, the World Bank and other international partners.”

In the regional security perspective, Obama was conscious of the historical tensions between India and Pakistan and the need to defray strains between the two South Asian powers over their disputes through constructive U.S. diplomacy.“To lessen tensions between two nuclear?armed nations that too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation, we must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan.”

The US president claimed the al?Qaeda leaders have moved into Pakistan after U.S. dislodged their Afghan hosts, the Taliban from power in Kabul in post?9/11, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. He said Pakistan? Afghanistan border region has become the most dangerous place in the world for the American people. Yet, he said, it is an international challenge of the highest order and in this respect, referred to terrorist acts in Islamabad and other cities of the world.

Obama, flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary Defense Robert Gates, described the situation in Afghanistan as “perilous” and announced to ramp up security effort in Afghanistan to add 4000 U.S. trainers on top of already approved 17000 deployments for the southern parts of the country this summer.

“The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have suffered the most at the hands of violent extremists,” he said, hours after a suicide bombing in Khyber tribal agency claimed scores of lives. The incident underscored the severity of challenge in the Afghan?Pak border regions.

Obama stressed the commonality of Pakistani and American peace and security goals and vowed a “lasting partnership with the Pakistani people,” saying they share with Americans the desire to get rid of terrorist threat. “The United States has the greatest respect for the Pakistani people,” he said, applauding their rich history and struggle for democracy in the country.

“The people of Pakistan want the same things that we want an end to terror, access to basic services, the opportunity to live their dreams and the security that can only come with the rule of law.“The single greatest threat to their future comes from al?Qaeda and its extremist allies. And that is why we must stand together.”

The terrorists, he said, killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani soldiers and police personnel. “Al-Qaeda and its extremists allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within,” he said urging the need for supporting Pakistan.

To strengthen Pakistan’s economy, he endorsed a bipartisan Congressional move to expand socio?economic assistance for Pakistan to $ 1.5 billion annually over at least five years, extendable to another five years. In this context, he urged passage of the measure that Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Ranking Republican Richard Lugar plan to introduce the landmark measure next week.

He also called for enactment of legislation on establishing reconstruction opportunity zones under a preferential trade plan to kickstart economic activity and create jobs in the terrorism?afflicted areas.

“A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co?sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years ? resources that will build schools, roads, and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan’s democracy.

“I am also calling on Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co?sponsored by Maria Cantwell, Chris Van Hollen and Peter Hoekstra that creates opportunity zones in the border region to develop the economy and bring hope to places plagued by violence. And we will ask our friends and allies to do their part ? including at the donors conference in Tokyo next month.”

Obama added, he does “not ask for this support lightly”.“These are challenging times, and resources are stretched. But the American people must understand that this is a down payment on our own future ? because the security of our two countries is shared. Pakistan’s government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe?havens, and we must isolate al Qaeda from the Pakistani people.”

The U.S. president hinted at broadening the regional effort by looping in help from Russia, Iran, China and India in the stabilization effort.“Together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region ? our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. None of these nations benefit from a base for al Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development.”

He said Pakistan and Afghanistan are inextricably linked.“The road ahead will be long. There will be difficult days. But we will seek lasting partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan that serve the promise of a new day for their people. And we will use all elements of our national power to defeat al Qaeda, and to defend America, our allies, and all who seek a better future. Because the United States of America stands for peace and security, justice and opportunity. That is who we are, and that is what history calls on us to do once more.”

“Later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan Security Forces. For the first time, this will fully resource our effort to train and support the Afghan Army and Police. Every American unit in Afghanistan will be partnered with an Afghan unit, and we will seek additional trainers from our NATO allies to ensure that every Afghan unit has a coalition partner. We will accelerate our efforts to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000 so that we can meet these goals by 2011 ? and increases in Afghan forces may very well be needed as our plans to turn over security responsibility to the Afghans go forward.”

Contrastingly with his predecessor George Bush’s high?flown claims about objectives in the insurgency?wrecked country, Obama scaled down and simplified the targets ? not to allow Afghanistan to once again become a safe haven for violent extremists who may plan attacks against the U.S. and its allies.

He said the U.S. military push in Afghanistan would be joined by a dramatic increase in the civilian effort.

“Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, have seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty.”

He said “an uncompromising core of the Taliban,” the fundamentalist party that America and its allies ousted seven years ago, must be defeated militarily, but that other opposition forces “who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price,” must be drawn back into the fold.-APP

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