Fine print of Obama's Afghanistan speech: it's about Pakistan
In his speech, Obama was careful to include Pakistan's borderlands with Afghanistan in his most dire warnings. His new strategy for Afghanistan also means a ratcheting up of resources for – and pressures on – Pakistan.
President Obama's speech Tuesday night may have focused on his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but infusing almost every paragraph was the administration's even deeper concern about Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Obama spoke of the two countries' long and rugged border region as the "epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda" that continues to threaten the US. He went further, saying that the dangers in allowing the region to "slide backwards" into becoming a haven for extremists "are even greater with a nuclear-armed Pakistan."
But left largely unsaid was the extent to which the new strategy for Afghanistan also means a ratcheting up of resources for – and pressures on – Pakistan.
"From the beginning, Pakistan has always had primacy in this president's thinking about things," says Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency, who co-chaired Obama's initial interagency review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy last winter.
Administration officials including Obama's national security adviser, James Jones, have traveled to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad recently to lay out US plans for stepped-up intelligence operations and military assistance.
CIA Director Leon Panetta has also pressed the Pakistanis for greater cooperation. The US would like to broaden the scope of the unmanned drone attacks that have targeted Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who direct their operations from hide-outs along the Afghan border.
But so far, Pakistan's civilian and military leaders have been reluctant to OK the increased US intelligence presence and operations, Pakistani sources say.
As difficult as dealing with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai may be, working with the Pakistani government "is even more complicated," says Mr. Riedel, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.