Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama airstrikes kill 22 in Pakistan


January 25, 2009

Islamabad is the first to get a taste of the president’s ‘tough love’ policy

PAKISTAN received an early warning of what the era of “smart power” under President Barack Obama will look like after two remote-controlled US airstrikes killed 22 people at suspected terrorist hideouts in the border area of Waziristan.

There will be no let-up in the military pressure on terrorist groups, US officials warned, as Obama prepares to launch a surge of 30,000 troops in neighbouring Afghanistan. It is part of a “tough love” policy combining a military crack-down with diplomatic initiatives.

The Pakistani government, which received a visit from General David Petraeus, the chief of US Central Command, on the day of Obama’s inauguration, has been warned that it must step up its efforts against militants if it is to continue to receive substantial military aid from America.

The airstrikes were authorised under a covert programme approved by Obama, according to a senior US official. It was a dramatic signal in the president’s first week of office that there will be no respite in the hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

However, Obama aims to win hearts and minds in the region by tripling the nonmilitary aid budget to Pakistan and encouraging reconciliation and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan as a component of the surge.

Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, said during her Senate confirmation hearing: “We will use all the elements in our power - diplomacy, development and defence - to work with those . . . who want to root out Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other violent extremists.”

Clinton pledged that a mix of active diplomacy and strong defence, which she described as “smart power”, would help to restore US leadership in foreign policy.

The airstrikes are deeply resented in Pakistan, where enthusiasm for Obama is said to be lower than in any other Muslim country.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani who runs the South Asia centre of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said Obama had to do more than lob missiles at Pakistan.

“He can’t just focus on military achievements; he has to win over the people.” Nawaz added that it was important to set conditions in return for aid because “people are more cognisant of the need for accountability – for ‘tough love’ ”.

Increased military cooperation from Pakistan is a vital part of the surge, according to diplomatic sources who fear the efforts in Afghanistan will be wasted if terrorists can operate with relative ease from bases across the border.

Obama is also ramping up the pressure on Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, who is increasingly viewed as an obstacle to progress and faces reelection this year.

“We’re going to need more effective government and a more effective drive against corruption coming from the leadership in Kabul if the Nato effort is to be sustainable,” said a senior British official.

Richard Holbrooke, 67, a veteran diplomat known as “the bulldozer”, was appointed as a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan last week.

“Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well,” Holbrooke said when his appointment was announced.

Obama last week delivered the warning that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the “central front” in the war on terror.

“There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al-Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border,” he said, “and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it needs to define its strategy in the region.

Robert Gates, who has retained his job as defence secretary, said last week: “One of the points where I suspect both administrations come to the same conclusion is that the goals we did have for Afghanistan are too broad and too far into the future.”

Gates said America needed to set more “concrete goals” for Afghanistan that could “be achieved realistically within three to five years”.

He described these goals as reestablishing Afghan government control in the south and east of the country, and delivering better services to its people.

In a sign that there may be turf wars to come between the State Department and the Pentagon, Clinton said she wanted diplomats rather than military officers to hand out aid, set up schools and encourage political reconciliation - a break from the counter-insurgency strategy pursued in Iraq under Petraeus.

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