Obama vows new deal for Afghanistan
AFP - 2 hours 1 minute ago
WASHINGTON, (AFP) - - US president-elect Barack Obama called for a grand new approach to fighting terror in South Asia starting with the promise of a better life for dirt-poor Afghans.
Military means alone would not suffice, he said in an NBC interview broadcast Sunday, while pressing India and Pakistan to heal their divide over Kashmir following the recent massacre by extremists in Mumbai.
"If a country is attacked, it has the right to defend itself," Obama said on "Meet the Press," while evading a question on whether India has the right to go in hot pursuit of militants over the Pakistan border.
Obama, who has reserved the right to strike Pakistan-based militants if Islamabad is unwilling or unable, said the new civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari "has sent the right signals."
"He has indicated that he recognizes this (terrorism) is not just a threat to the United States but it is a threat to Pakistan as well," Obama said, citing a deadly bombing Friday in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near Afghanistan.
Obama called for an "effective strategic partnership with Pakistan that allows us in concert to assure that terrorists are not setting up safe havens in some of these border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
But the United States needed also to build a strategic partnership across all of South Asia, Obama said ahead of his inauguration on January 20, as he vowed to take the fight "fiercely" to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"We can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation. We have to see it as part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran," he said.
Suspicion over the Mumbai carnage, which left 172 dead, has fallen on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group that has fought Indian rule in Kashmir and was blamed for a 2001 attack on the New Delhi parliament.
Pakistan's foreign ministry Sunday dismissed as "rubbish" a Washington Post report that it had agreed to a 48-hour timetable imposed by the United States and India to take action against Pakistanis accused of involvement in the attacks.
"We are going to have to make sure that India and Pakistan are normalizing their relationship if we are going to be effective in some of these other areas," Obama said.
Afghanistan was going to require additional troops and more effective coordination among NATO allies on the ground, said Obama, who plans to divert troops from Iraq as he winds down the war there.
"And we've got to really ramp up our development approach to Afghanistan. Part of the problem that we've had is the average Afghan farmer hasn't seen any improvement in his life," the president-elect said.
Despite promises of a new dawn for Afghanistan by President George W. Bush, Obama said infrastructure and security remained parlous, the rule of law was feeble and drugs trafficking rampant.
"If we combine effective development, more effective military work as well as more effective diplomacy, then I think that we can stabilize the situation," he said, without going into details.
Meanwhile fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar called on Afghans Sunday to boycott elections scheduled for next year, in a message released on the eve of a major Muslim festival.
The one-eyed Omar, who has a 10-million-dollar US bounty on his head, said Afghanistan's leaders had no authority to make decisions and accused Washington of controlling the country.
"Do not allow yourselves to be deceived by this dishonest election announcement. In reality, the choice will be made in Washington," he said in an email released on the eve of the Eid-ul-Adha festival in Afghanistan.
Asked if he would designate a presidential envoy for South Asia, Obama said his focus was to draft a comprehensive strategy for his national security team headed by secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton.
"I have enormous confidence in Senator Clinton's ability to rebuild alliances and to send a strong signal that we are going to do business differently and place an emphasis on diplomacy," he said.
At a news conference Sunday unveiling retired army general Eric Shinseki as his pick for veterans affairs secretary, Obama said he wanted "a new national security strategy that uses all elements of American power."
Obama reaffirmed plans to command his military chiefs to "design a plan for a responsible drawdown" from Iraq, stressing that both Baghdad and the Bush administration were already eyeing an exit for US troops under a new pact.
On NBC, he refused to say how many troops he might leave in Iraq as part of a residual force to guard US diplomats and prevent a resurgence in terror. But the stress must lie on the "central front" of terrorism -- in Afghanistan and in its border regions with Pakistan.
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