Obama Says Pakistan Has ‘Unsavory’ Contacts in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama criticized Pakistan for ties to “unsavory characters” opposed to American aims to end the insurgency in Afghanistan.

“They have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like,” Obama told a news conference at the White House yesterday. “And part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left.”

The U.S. will constantly evaluate its relationship with Pakistan on the basis of whether it is “helping to protect Americans and our interests,” Obama said.

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have soured amid allegations by U.S. officials that the Pakistani government is aiding guerrilla attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan last month rejected a claim by the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Taliban faction “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

“There’s no doubt that, you know, we’re not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don’t think that they’re mindful of our interests as well,” Obama said, according to a government transcript. “Pakistan, I think, has been more ambivalent about some of our goals” in Afghanistan.

Both Sides

Pakistan is playing both sides by going after the Taliban within its borders in some cases and helping it in others, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a contender in the race to be the Republican presidential candidate, said on Oct. 4, according to the Associated Press.

Pakistan has to decide if it’s “with us or with them,” AP cited Romney as telling voters in New Hampshire. “If you’re with them, that will have a very significant consequence. If you’re with us, that’s a very good thing.” Romney didn’t say what the consequence may be, AP reported.

Obama acknowledged that the U.S. policy of going after al-Qaeda operatives in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan “could not have been as successful as we have been without the cooperation of the Pakistan government.”

There is more work to do getting cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.

U.S. Envoy

Marc Grossman, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is scheduled to visit Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, this weekend to meet with Pakistani government officials.

“Job one between the U.S. and Pakistan on the counterterrorism front is to tackle the Haqqani network,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a Sept. 30 briefing in Washington announcing his visit. “We’ve got to find a way to work on this together.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani hosted political parties, including Islamic opposition groups, in Islamabad on Sept. 29 in a show of unity after U.S. charges that Pakistan-based insurgents struck American targets in Kabul last month. Lawmakers called on Gilani’s government to renew peace efforts with militants in Pakistan’s regions bordering Afghanistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari, writing in the Washington Post last week, said it’s “time for rhetoric to cool and for serious dialogue between allies to resume.”

Damaging Ties

Terrorists have gained the most from the “recent verbal assaults some in America have made against Pakistan,” Zardari wrote in the Washington Post. “This strategy is damaging the relationship between Pakistan and the United States and compromising common goals in defeating terrorism, extremism and fanaticism.”

Tension between the U.S. and Pakistan also spiked after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a house north of Islamabad in May. A Pakistani judicial commission investigating the U.S. assault recommended yesterday that the government bring treason charges against a local doctor who allegedly helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency track down the al-Qaeda chief.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sept. 15 that the U.S. won’t allow further strikes on its forces by the Haqqani group, which is based largely in Pakistan’s border district of North Waziristan. Some congressional leaders have urged tougher policies, with Republican Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham saying the U.S. may have to consider a military response.

Afghan Policy

The Afghan government said on Sept. 30 said it may suspend its efforts to work with Pakistan on a process to end the war in Afghanistan because no progress has been made.

Afghanistan may work more closely with the U.S., Europe and India instead of trying to negotiate with Taliban groups based in Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

Pakistan sees its security interests threatened by an independent Afghanistan, in part because they think it will ally itself to India, Obama said.

“Part of what we want to do is actually get Pakistan to realize that a peaceful approach toward India would be in everybody’s interests and would help Pakistan actually develop,” he said.

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