Global Politics

Pakistan's reaction to Obama speech

President Obama said one of the three pillars to success in Afghanistan was Pakistan. Many in Pakistan have reacted negatively to that. The official reaction in Pakistan has been somewhat muted, but the press is speaking out strongly against the President’s new plan. The World’s Jason Margolis reports.

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MARCO WERMAN: While the militants in Somalia are of concern to the U.S., the militants in Pakistan are a bigger worry.  During his speech Tuesday night, President Obama said one of the keys for success in Afghanistan is a strong relationship with Pakistan. But some of the other things the President said about Pakistan didn’t go down well there.  The World’s Jason Margolis explains.

JASON MARGOLIS: In his speech, the President invoked Pakistan 25 times in 33 minutes. He said Pakistan is a country of pressing concern, and he questioned Pakistan’s prior commitment to fighting extremism.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who’ve argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence.  But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism.

MARGOLIS: The reaction to President Obama’s speech in Pakistani newspapers appeared unanimous.  Harsh criticism of the president’s words and his new policies.  A newspaper in Lahore said the President’s new Afghan strategy, quote, “evoked alarm and disappointment in equal measure.” One Islamabad paper said the President’s remark about Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, and the potential danger they pose, was like rubbing salt on open wounds.  Another Islamabad paper called the President’s new plan “nefarious.”

AHMED RASHID: We’ve never had a U.S. President say this. We’ve had U.S. officials say this, and I think this came as a shock.

MARGOLIS: That’s Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid speaking from Lahore. He’s the author of the book Descent into Chaos.  Tough words from U.S. officials towards Pakistan aren’t anything new. But in the past, they’ve come through diplomatic channels, even as high as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Rashid says it wasn’t just the shock of hearing criticism directly from the President during a major speech. Rashid says people in Pakistan didn’t like the message.

RASHID: There’s a great deal of concern that the arrival of fresh American forces in Afghanistan will lead to an upsurge of violence in Pakistan, with the Pakistani Taliban re-launching their offensive, Afghan Taliban coming across the border into Pakistan.

MARGOLIS: Officially, the Pakistani government has been largely silent in its response to Mr. Obama’s address. Today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister rejected accusations that his nation isn’t doing enough to root out terrorism. Pakistan may be on the defensive because of President Obama’s proposed July 2011 deadline to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.  Many in Pakistan feel that Washington abandoned the region in the 1980′s when the U.S. sharply cut aid after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.  A mistrust of American motives persists today, says Teresita Schafer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

TERESITA SCHAFER: In Pakistan there is very widely held view that the United States is an unreliable friend, and doesn’t have the staying power to remain a factor in the troubles of the region over the long haul. And so, there’s probably some tendency to see the mention of 2011, however carefully qualified it has been, as confirmation of that view.

MARGOLIS: But the Obama Administration has gone to great lengths in the past 48 hours to clarify that it’s not abandoning Pakistan come July 2011. Here’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifying before Congress.

HILARY CLINTON: We want to be partnering with the Pakistanis. We want to be supporting their democracy and their development, and that is independent from Afghanistan.

MARGOLIS: The Obama administration has also been highlighting the fact that Pakistan is the third largest recipient of American aid.  Still, U.S. reassurances are likely to fall upon deaf ears in Pakistan, says M.J. Gohel with the Asia Pacific Foundation.

M.J.  GOHEL: If the USA gives billions of dollars in financial aid, it will be seen as there being an ulterior motive. If it gives no aid, there will be those who would see a conspiracy in this. And this also applies to the troop surge. If the U.S.A. had said they’re sending no troops at all to Afghanistan, there are many in Pakistan who would have said, oh the U.S.A. is again abandoning the region and the U.S.A. doesn’t care. It’s a no-win scenario for the U.S.A. as far as Pakistan is concerned.

MARGOLIS: In other words, Gohel says this week’s hostile reaction to President Obama’s speech is just another week in Pakistan.  For the World, I’m Jason Margolis.

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