WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has said the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has become more honest over time.
In his first interview since Wednesday evening when he announced his new strategy for the Pak-Afghan region, President Obama also acknowledged that the US focus had shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan. “I think the focus shifted to Pakistan, in my view, two years ago. So we’ve sought to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan,” he told Voice of America, the US government’s international broadcasting service. “Obviously, that has created tensions as well, but overall Pakistan has cooperated with us in our intelligence-collection efforts, in striking at high-value targets within Pakistan.”
Mr.Obama said he believed that no country had suffered more from terrorist attacks than Pakistan, “so this is entirely in their self-interest” to combat terrorism. Explaining his focus-shift, Mr Obama said events forced him to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of a similar problem.
Pakistan’s tribal areas, he said, provided Al Qaeda and other extremists groups with safe havens from where they launched attacks into Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the world. Like his secretary of state, Mr.Obama also said that he believed Pakistan had a legitimate role to play as part of the process of reconciliation with the insurgents.
He also noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently travelled to Islamabad where he agreed to form a core group, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. This group would “discuss how we can proceed in this process”, Mr.Obama said, noting that Pakistan not only had a responsibility but also “a deep interest in dealing with the terrorist elements that are still in their territory”.
Asked if the US-Pakistan relationship had soured, Mr.Obama said: “I think what happened is that the relationship has become more honest over time.” This openness, he said, had raised “some differences that are real” and the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions.
“But I had always been very clear to Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it,” he added. “We think that if Pakistan recognises the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively to make sure that both US security interests, Pakistani security interests, and Afghan security interests converge.” Asked if Pakistan has to play a greater role against terrorism, Mr.Obama said: “I think that Pakistan has always seen terrorism as either a problem for somebody else, or has seen elements of the Taliban as a hedge in terms of their influence within Afghanistan.” The US, he said, had suggested to Pakistan that not only terrorism threatened Pakistan more than just about any other country, but it also strained its relations with its neighbours and with friends like the United States.
The US had also informed the Pakistanis that if they had “direct” and “constructive” relationship with the Afghan government, “there’s no reason for them to see the Taliban as a hedge against Afghanistan. Instead, they should see the Afghan government as a partner they can work with”.