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World Affairs


Obama comes to grips with Afghans and Pakistanis

There are many anti-American and closet al Qaeda supporters hoping that President Barack Obama would stumble over Afghanistan which now appears to be one of his biggest foreign challenges. In a recent interview with Larry King, former American President Bill Clinton was asked whether Afghanistan would be Barack Obama's Vietnam. Clinton should know best, Hillary Clinton the Foreign Secretary being his wife.

Clinton's reply was that while it could be 'theoretically possible,' he did not think it would happen. Afghanistan, he pointed out was 'a sink hole' for many countries with its big, tough terrain, rugged people and  borders impossible to control.

If Obama tried to do what the British did in the 19th Century - literally govern the country or what the Soviet Union tried to do in the 1980s - run it through a puppet government then it could become a Vietnam. But it  was not going to happen with  David Petraeus, one of the 'smartest generals' and the most successful diplomat in the modern era David Holbrooke working together to craft a  military/diplomatic strategy with strong support from the former Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton opined.

Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Certainly Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to be in  chaos in President Barack Obama's first month in office but one month is hardly enough time for any president to come to grips with problems of such magnitude.

Barack Obama's policy for Afghanistan appears to be a regional strategy where he sees a nexus between the neighbouring countries - Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.  Already Richard Holbrooke has been visiting the turbulent region where in his own words, he has been 'listening' and not doing the talking. It is certainly a tough assignment for Ambassador Holbrooke because much of the region's volatile countries are now close to ignition point.

In Afghanistan Hamid Karzai the Afghan president who cut a charismatic figure in American diplomatic circles has not hit it off with Barack Obama. Reports say that the Obama administration considers him corrupt and inefficient and Obama has not been in contact with him as regularly as President George Bush had been. The Afghan presidential elections are only months ahead and a possible successor to Karzai - acceptable to the US - is not on the horizon.

Ban on Nawaz Sharif

In Pakistan which has been America's most long-standing ally in the region, the situation is slipping from bad to worse. Last week the Pakistan Supreme Court ruled that Nawaz Sharif the most powerful opposition leader in the country and his brother Shabaz, the Chief Minister of Punjab, were not eligible to hold political office because of their previous convictions on charges of hijacking. Shariff has been prime minister of the country twice and his brother holds power in the Punjab province, the most powerful province in the country.

As these comments are being written Nawaz Sharif has called out his political supporters on to the streets, the worst thing that could happen to this country which is wracked by Taliban and fundamental Islamic violence.


President Asif Zardari though elected to power after the assassination of  Benazir Bhutto is said to be the most unpopular politician in Pakistan - a recent popularity poll giving him only 19 per cent.

Last week in this column we wrote on the threat of Talibanisation of Pakistan. The government two weeks ago gave into the demand to permit the operation of Sharia law in a region known as the Swat Valley only 100 miles away from the capital Islamabad. It is a widely held view that this was capitulation by the government to demands of the Pakistani Taliban on the assurance that they would ensure restoration of peace in the valley.

The United States which views with alarm the Talibanisation of Pakistan has condemned this move as a capitulation of the government to the Taliban. The Sharia law is highly controversial with specific restrictions placed on women especially girls attending schools.

Pakistanis  by and large  value the democratic way of life and at elections, even in regions close to the North Western regions, have voted against extremist parties. The Pakistani government is being made to capitulate to  the extremist violence of the Taliban. While some commentators claim it is not an immediate threat even, President Zardari had confessed to the growing power of Taliban across the country.

According to reports President Obama's actions in Afghanistan in his first month have left most Pakistanis and even Afghans disappointed particularly on the firing of missiles from unmanned aircraft into civilian areas. While NATO troops claim that as much as 20 al Qaeda leaders have been killed by this rocket fire into civilian areas, reports say that it is driving thousands of Pakistanis to join the forces of the Taliban in sheer disgust of attacks being made by an ally of the country.









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