Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama Says Pakistan’s Government Is ‘Very Fragile’

President Barack Obama said the government in Pakistan is “very fragile” and expressed concern about security in the nuclear-armed nation, as Pakistani forces battled Taliban militants in the northwest.

The government doesn’t “seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law and a judicial system that works for the majority of the people,” Obama said at a White House news conference last night.

The U.S. has “huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state,” Obama told reporters.

Obama has made tackling extremism in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan the central focus of U.S. foreign policy and is pressing the government in Islamabad to crack down on militants. Pakistan’s military this week attacked the Taliban with helicopter gunships and jets to halt an advance that brought fighters to within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the capital, Islamabad.

At least 20 people were killed in the financial capital, Karachi, yesterday, said Wasim Ahmed, the city police chief, adding it was too early to say whether the violence was ethnic or political. President Asif Ali Zardari said the nation could ill afford such attacks in the southern city, while troops battled militants in the north.

‘Mortal Threat’

Pakistan’s government is beginning to recognize that “the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally,” Obama said.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. U.S. military officials say tensions over Kashmir are diverting Pakistan from the fight against extremists.

Pakistan’s military recognizes the threat of nuclear weapons “falling into the wrong hands,” Obama told reporters, adding he is confident the nation’s atomic arsenal is secure.

Pakistan’s government is trying to reassert control in the northwest after the Taliban took advantage of a peace accord in the Swat Valley to push into neighboring areas.

More than 50 Taliban guerrillas were killed in the operation to secure Buner district, the closest Taliban ground forces have come to the capital, army spokesman Athar Abbas told reporters yesterday. As many as 75 militants were killed in Dir district earlier this week.

The Obama administration has criticized the peace accord that saw Islamic law introduced in seven northwestern districts, including Swat, Buner and Dir, and last week accused the government of “abdicating” to extremists.

Congressional Aid

U.S. officials were yesterday supportive of the offensive and asked Congress to approve $400 million to shore up the fight against extremists.

“The Pakistani government is undertaking concrete actions to demonstrate their commitment to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism,” Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington. “We must show our Pakistan partners that if they take decisive action against extremists, we will give them the support they need.”

The $400 million, requested earlier this month, would expand U.S. training and equipment for Pakistani forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations.

Military Technology

“Pakistan can and will defeat the Taliban,” Ambassador Husain Haqqani wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He called on the Obama administration to share military technology with Pakistan to help in the fight against terrorism.

Pakistan needs night vision equipment, radio jammers and a “larger, modernized fleet of helicopter gunships for ground support,” Haqqani said, adding the U.S. has been reluctant to share the technology because of concerns it could be used against India.

“Such concerns are misplaced,” the ambassador wrote. “Pakistanis understand that the primary threat to our homeland today is not from our neighbor to the east but from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on our border with Afghanistan.”