WASHINGTON, Nov 1: US presidential frontrunner Barack Obama wants to strengthen democracy in Pakistan by increasing non-military aid to the country but he also wants the Pakistanis to realise that their biggest enemy is not India but the militants within their borders.
The Democratic presidential candidate used an interview to CNN on Friday and an earlier rally in Sarasota, Florida, to highlight major points of his foreign policy agenda.
According to this agenda, Mr Obama’s first priority, if elected president on Nov 4, will be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
He will continue the fight against Al Qaeda militants hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region until the militants are defeated.
“We will finally finish the fight and snuff out Al Qaeda and Bin Laden who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11. I will never hesitate to do what it takes to defend this nation,” he declared.
Mr Obama also promised to close down US military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and expressed conditional support to holding direct talks with elements within the Taliban movement who are willing to give up violence.
The Democratic candidate also pledged to do “everything in my power” to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons.
To Pakistan’s democratic government, he offered a combination of socio-economic assistance.
“Now you have got a fledging democratic government. We have to support their efforts to democratise,” he said. “That means, by the way, not just providing military aid. It means, also, helping them to provide concrete solutions to the poverty and lack of education that exists in Pakistan. So, I want to increase non-military aid to Pakistan.”
The senator from Illinois is one of the co-sponsors of a US Senate bill that promises to provide $15 billion of US assistance to Pakistan over the next 10 years.
Mr Obama said he was concerned about Pakistan’s stability and agreed with the interviewer that Al Qaeda was targeting the country’s new leadership.
But he blamed the Bush administration for pursuing a policy that created instability in Pakistan.
“Well, I’m concerned about it. This was one of the problems with our previous strategy. There was a lot of resentment that built up as a consequence of our support of President Musharraf there, who had squelched democracy,” he said.
Mr Obama also pledged to convince Pakistani leaders to change their attitude towards India and refocus their attention on militants hiding within their borders.
“We also have to make the case that the biggest threat to Pakistan now is not India which has been the historical enemy,” he said. “It is actually militants within their borders.”
A refocusing of Pakistan’s attention, argued the Democratic senator, would also help the US-led war against terror.
“And if we can get them to refocus on that, that’s going to be critical for our success, not just in stabilising Pakistan but also in finishing the job in Afghanistan,” he said.
Asked if he would support holding of direct talks with the Taliban, Senator Obama recalled that Gen David Petraeus, the new US military commander for the region, had discussed the possibility of trying to peel away more moderate factions within the Taliban.
“And I think that after talking to our commanders on the ground and based on sound intelligence, if we can peel off some support from the hardcore militants that are aligned with Al Qaeda that will be beneficial,” he said.
Mr Obama said that even if he held talks with the Taliban, he would remain focused on his main objective: to snuff out Al Qaeda and to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. “And in order for us to do that, we are going to have to have cooperation from Afghans and Pakistanis.”
Such cooperation, he admitted, would not be a clean affair. “It may get murky in terms of who are potential allies, who are enemies in that situation. I want to work with our commanders to do whatever we practically can do in order to make sure that our overall goal of eliminating Al Qaeda as a threat is accomplished.”