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Obama unrolls hard AfPak roadmap,brings India in

US President Barack Obama said today that he plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan,increase aid to Pakistan...

Peter Baker & Thom Shankerwashington | Published: March 28, 2009 1:16:20 am

US President Barack Obama said today that he plans to further bolster American forces in Afghanistan,increase aid to Pakistan,and for the first time set benchmarks for progress in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in both chaotic countries.

Unveiling a sweeping new Afghan war strategy,Obama also identified India,Russia and China as among the countries having a stake in the security of the region and said that none of them benefits from a base for Al Qaeda terrorists and a region that descends into chaos.

“Together with the UN,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,” he said.

To Islamabad,his message was clear. “…After years of mixed results we will and cannot provide a blank cheque. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out Al Qaeda and violent extremists within its border,” he said,describing Al-Qaeda as a “cancer” that could devour Pakistan.

Obama also said “the US must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan to lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed nations that often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation.” He argued that the use of “constructive diplomacy” with India and Pakistan is important to win the “war against terror” in the region.

(There was no official comment in New Delhi with officials saying they would wait to see how this plan “pans out.”)

In strikingly ominous tones,Obama warned — just as President George W. Bush did repeatedly over the years — of intelligence estimates that al Qaeda “is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan.”

“The situation is increasingly perilous,” he said. “We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt,dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan,and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”

But Obama promised neither to write a “blank check” nor to “blindly stay the course” if his risky new strategy does not achieve its ambitious goals. In imposing conditions on the Afghans and Pakistanis,Obama is replicating an approach used in Iraq two years ago both to justify a deeper American commitment and prod shaky governments in the region to take more responsibility for fighting insurgents and building lasting political institutions.

The new strategy,officials said,will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office.

For now,Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces,they said,although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more American troops. Even so,the strategy he endorsed effectively gives Obama full ownership of the war just as its violence is spilling back and forth across the border with Pakistan.

He called on Congress to approve legislation authorizing $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan every year over the next five years for strengthening its democratic institutions and for basic infrastructure improvements like building roads and schools.

Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.

Setting benchmarks for Pakistan could be particularly difficult. For years,the United States has simply paid bills submitted by the Pakistani government for counterterrorism operations,even during truces when its military was not involved in counterterrorism.

Obama said that “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.

(With PTI and ENS)

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