Obama to up pressure on, offer incentives to Pakistan and Afghanistan | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 05.05.2009
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Obama to up pressure on, offer incentives to Pakistan and Afghanistan

Money for security - that's the deal that US President Barack Obama is to offer his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts on Wednesday. A former German ambassador to Pakistan talks us through a potentially historic meeting.

Montage: a Taliban fighter and Barack Obama

Obama wants Pakistan and Afghanistan to crack down on Taliban fighters

Barack Obama has repeatedly pledged to shift the focus of the US-led fight against terrorism from Iraq to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the outcome of his meetings in Washington with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be measured against that aim.

But what, concretely, will Obama be asking those two leaders to do in what is arguably the world's most-diificult-to-control region? DW-WORLD asked Gunter Mulack, a former German ambassador to Pakistan, who's currently the director of the German Orient Institute in Berlin.

"Obama will be asking Pakistan and Afghanistan to work together better, especially in terms of the military and the intelligence services, to suppress the Taliban and al Qaeda in the border region," Mulack said.

Map showing the location of Swat District (highlighted in yellow) within the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan.

Islamist militants operate with near impunity in the highlighted areas of Pakistan

Resurgent al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with international troops in Afghanistan as well as the security forces of both countries, hopping back and forth across the remote, mountainous border.

They are able to do so in part because mutual distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan prevents the two nations from coordinating their security efforts.

Obama wants to see better cooperation from Pakistan, in particular, and is holding out the promise of $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) in annual aid to that country, if Zadari agrees to work together with Kabul and clamp down on Taliban strongholds in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.

Confidence building

Turkey's President Abdullah Gul, center, his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, right, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Karzai, left, and Zardari, right, got along well when they met last month in Turkey

Gunter Mulack believes that Zardari, who was elected last year, may be a more accommodating partner than his predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf.

"Karzai's relations with Zardari are much better than with Musharraf, which is partly due to the fact that both men are civilian elected leaders," Mulack said. "Afghanistan still mistrusts Pakistan in a lot of respects, but the atmosphere between the two men is good."

But the US, too, is sceptical about whether the Pakistani leadership in general, and the military and intelligence services specifically, have the will to tackle the Taliban and al Qaeda head on.

"As US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently said, there are major doubts about the Pakistani secret services, which cooperated for too many years with militants, particular in Kashmir," Mulack said. "There are also qualms about whether Zardari fully has his heart in it."


Islamabad's attempts to fight the Taliban have angered some Pakistanis

Zadari's position is especially precarious since the Islamist militants enjoy considerable popularity in impoverished northwest Pakistan. Earlier this year the government was forced to agree to the imposition of Sharia law and the cessation of military attacks against the Taliban.

"Zardari has to avoid looking like a lackey of the United States," Mulack told DW-WORLD.

On the other hand, with a bill allocating the billions of dollars for Pakistani aid currently before Congress, Zardari also needs to come across as a trustworthy partner to Washington.

Prospects for success

Site of attack

A suicide bomber killed five people in Pakistan as Zardari flew to Washington

It's clear what's at stake, and what the main problems will be, during Obama's two-days of meetings with Zardari and Karzai. But what will determine whether trio can achieve a breakthrough?

"I think one key will be who is there, whether the leaders bring along military and intelligence officials," Mulack said. "If so, and if America can act as an effective mediator, then they might be able to take a big step and the two countries could truly do something to combat the Talibanization of the region."

And Obama is drawing praise, in contrast to his predecessor George Bush, for emphasizing dialogue and for taking a broader regional approach rather than focusing on single nations.

"A further step would be to get other countries in the area - for instance, India and Iran - to come to the table," Mulack said.

But Obama's first priority will be to get the two main principals, Pakistan and Afghanistan, working as a team to eradicate safe havens for Islamist militants in the Hindukush.

Author: Jefferson Chase

Editor: Chuck Penfold

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