I am so impressed with the amount of work that’s being accomplished simultaneously for the American people by the Obama administration. This team have only been office for 5 weeks and look at all they have accomplished – impressive!
President Obama’s management style and approach has already made a world of difference in the way America is viewed, feared and respected.
Three years ago President George W. Bush could barely get the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to be polite to each other. When Bush pressured Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and Hamid Karzai of Afghan to pay a visit to the White House they came kicking and screaming and wouldn’t shake hands!
Yesterday night it was very different story. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of Pakistan and his Afghan counterpart, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, had a ‘nice’ dinner together and assured each other that they were committed to fighting extremists in both countries. The objective of the talks was to produce a new strategy for the region – the two Ministers camps in the same room talking about a common approach was definitely a step in the right direction.
In the same way the Bush administration spent three years urging the Egyptian government to free Ayman Nour, the country’s most prominent political dissident, to no avail. But last week, in a move that many interpreted as a goodwill gesture, the Egyptian government abruptly released Nour, citing “medical reasons.”
Likewise, two weeks ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dismissed two powerful religious figures — including the head of the cane-wielding hard-core religious police known as the mutawa — as part of a government shuffle that appeared aimed at reforming the kingdom’s hard-line religious establishment.
While it might be a stretch to think that King Abdullah, who has been slowly inching toward modest reform, suddenly cast out the head of his religious police to suck up to the Obama administration, the new cooperation coming from the Egyptian, Afghan and Pakistani governments however is a clear-cut confirmation that these three governments want to work with President Obama.
“I think the Ayman Nour release is definitely connected to Obama,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It was a fairly simple thing for the Obama administration to say to the Egyptians that if you want Mubarak to see our guy, this has to happen.”
As for “Afpak” — the new shorthand for Afghanistan/Pakistan being popularized by Richard Holbrooke, the new high-level American envoy for the two countries — Perkovich says that both governments are trying to put their best foot forward. They expect demands from the Obama administration for the Afghan government to do more to fight corruption and drug trafficking, which many in the West believe has helped to fuel the resurgent Taliban and for Pakistan to do more to crack down on extremists in the border region.
Holbrooke is a veteran diplomat known for dragging reluctant Serbs to the peace table during the Balkans conflict. Perkovich suggests that the prospect of being put under any kind of judicial scrutiny by President Obama may have scared the Afghan and Pakistani delegations into making nice. “Some of this is them saying, ‘O.K., these guys mean business, and Holbrooke is going to be coming out here every month, so let’s see if with little gestures we can turn down the pressure.’ “
The United States wants Pakistan to focus more on insurgents and a little less on its long-running fight with India, which Washington believes is occupying the Pakistani Army, whose time would be better spent — in America’s view — on Afpak, instead of what might be called Indiapak.
Pakistan‘s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has asked the United States to provide unmanned aircraft that would allow Pakistan to strike extremists hiding in rugged terrain along the Afghan border. Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in an interview that Pakistan, and not the United States, should have control of the missile strikes that have killed high-level extremists but also civilians.
The U.S. missile strikes are one of the most sensitive issues in U.S.-Pakistan ties. Qureshi said they are making it harder for his government to persuade infuriated Pakistanis along the frontier to support the fight against militants. “We feel that if the technology is transferred to Pakistan, Pakistan will be in a better position to determine how to use the technology and, without alienating people, achieve the objective,” Qureshi said.
“Pakistan is a willing partner with the U.S. in this fight,” he said. “Let us exercise that judgment.” The Bush government, Qureshi said, “had a point of view, and it was like the approach was, ‘This is it; take it or leave it.'”
The Egyptians want the United States to do a little more to press Israel on settlements in the West Bank. And in Afghanistan, where the presidential election season will be getting under way soon, Karzai has been striking increasingly anti-American tones, in a move to distance himself from the United States at a time when America is viewed with increasing hostility in that country.
“At the end of the day, we have some very significant policy differences with all of these countries,” Pollack said.
On Tuesday President Obama continued with his diplomacy push and met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso. Obama told Aso that the United States wanted to strengthen ties with Japan, a country Obama described as the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in East Asia and a major economic partner. Aso, who is struggling to stay in power, was the first foreign leader to visit the Obama White House, and the president called the prestigious invitation “a testimony to the strong partnership between the United States and Japan.”
“The friendship between the United States and Japan is extraordinarily important to our country,” Obama told reporters. “We think that we have an opportunity to work together, not only on issues related to the Pacific Rim but throughout the world.”
The Japanese leader, sitting next to Obama in the Oval Office before their private meeting, said the world’s top two economies “will have to work together hand in hand” to solve the “very critical, vital issue of the world.”