Fata insurgency challenge of highest order: Obama

24 01 2009

Source: Pakistani newspaper

WASHINGTON, Jan 23: An international challenge of the highest order and an urgent threat to global security is how the new US President Barack Obama described the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his maiden speech to his diplomatic corps.

Mr Obama was equally forceful while talking about another pivotal issue that has occupied US policy makers for half a century: the Middle East. ‘Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats,’ he said.

‘Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so too is a future without hope for the Palestinians,’ he added.

Reacting to his statement, the pro-Israeli neo-con media welcomed Mr Obama’s commitment to Israel but rejected his suggestion for creating a better future for the Palestinians. ‘We need to wipe them out,’ said a neo-con blogger. Some Arab commentators were also disappointed.

‘Mr Obama dispelled any notions of a change in the US Middle East policy,’ As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, told a US media outlet. ‘It’s like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza.’ But both groups noticed that Mr Obama acted fast, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush who ignored the Arab-Israeli conflict for too long and was not sincere to his own peace plan.

Just two days after talking oath, Mr Obama made telephone calls to Washington’s long-standing allies in the Middle East – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

But his Thursday afternoon statement at the State Department makes it clear that he is equally, if not more, focused on South Asia. ‘Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.

‘This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.’

Drawing a parallel between the two issues, Mr Obama observed: ‘There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problem in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the al Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border.’ He also acknowledged that the military option alone cannot end this crisis. ‘And there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said. ‘This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.’ The American people and the international community must understand that the situation in the two countries ‘is perilous and progress will take time,’ he warned.

Mr Obama conceded that violence in Afghanistan was ‘up dramatically.’ In describing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mr Obama did not focus only on the existence of the so-called terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan, indicating that his administration is open also to pointing out the drawbacks of its Afghan allies.

‘A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services,’ he said. Mr Obama then turned to the issue that he also highlighted during his election campaign: militancy in the tribal areas.

‘Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border,’ he said, adding that this does not only threaten Afghanistan but also is a threat to the United States. ‘While we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists remain at large and remain plotting,’ he warned. Toning down his election rhetoric, which focused on using the US military might to subdue the militants, in this policy statement Mr Obama spoke instead of setting ‘achievable goals.’ ‘Going forward, we must set clear priorities in pursuit of achievable goals that contribute to our collective security,’ he said.

Mr Obama said that his administration was committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely.

‘We will seek stronger partnerships with the governments of the region, sustained cooperation with our Nato allies, deeper engagement with the Afghan and Pakistani people and a comprehensive strategy to combat terror and extremism,’ he declared.

‘The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defence of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States,’ the new US president warned.

Earlier, President Barack Obama has described his new chief diplomat Hillary Clinton Hillary as “an early gift” to the State Department.

“It is my privilege to come here and to pay tribute to all of you, the talented men and women of the State Department,” Obama told the employees during a visit to underscore “my commitment to the importance of diplomacy in renewing American leadership.”

“I’ve given you an early gift, Hillary Clinton,” he said amid laughter and applause. “You will have a secretary of state who has my full confidence,” he said of his one- time Democratic rival for the nation’s highest office.

The former first lady too, leaving the bitterness of the election campaign behind, reciprocated his sentiments: “We are not only honoured and delighted, but challenged, by the president coming here on the second day.”

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