"Pakistan is a strategically important country not just for the U.S., but also for the world"

Guaranteeing America's support, U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday expressed the hope that India and Pakistan would be able to live in peace despite their past history. However, he stressed India's key role in bringing about a stable Pakistan and said a peaceful Pakistan would be in India's interest. He was responding to a direct question during his interaction with students at the St. Xavier's College here on Sunday.

While his speech on terrorism at the Taj on Saturday did not mention Pakistan, he had to reply to a question by Afsheen Irani during his town hall style meeting at the college on why Pakistan was such an important ally of America that it had never called Pakistan a terrorist state. After Ms. Irani's question, the President paused for a minute and said he was expecting it. Putting the onus on India, he said: “It may be surprising for some of you to hear me say this, but I am convinced that the country that has the biggest stake in Pakistan's success is India. An unstable Pakistan is bad for India, whereas a stable and prosperous Pakistan is good for India, because India is on the move. It is absolutely in your interest that the time that you are trying to succeed on the global economic stage you want security and stability in your region,” Mr. Obama said.

Referring to Partition, he said, “the history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and was born of much tragedy and violence… My hope is, over time, trust develops between the two countries. That dialogue begins perhaps on less controversial issues building up to more controversial issues. And over time there is a recognition that India and Pakistan can live side by side in peace. That will not happen tomorrow, but I think that needs to be our ultimate goal. The United States stands to be a partner in the process, but we can't impose that on India and Pakistan. Ultimately, India and Pakistan have to arrive at their own understandings in terms of how the relationship evolves,” he explained

Mr. Obama said Pakistan was “a strategically important country not just for the United States, but also for the world.” Nations had to come forward to point out the problem (of extremism) and help Pakistan address it. He admitted that “progress is not as quick,” because of the difficult terrain in the northwest. “The Pakistani army has shifted some of their forces into those areas. But that's not originally what their armed forces were designed to do. So they have had to adjust and adapt to these new dangers and new realities,” he said. However, he favoured “a military response to those who perpetuate violence [of the kind] we saw here in Mumbai.”

Strikes in Pakistan

Stating that more people had died in Pakistan in terror strikes within its borders than anywhere else, Mr. Obama said the Pakistan government was “very aware” of this threat the U.S. government was working to purge. “[Pakistan] is a country whose people have enormous potential, but right now it is also a country where there are some of the extremist elements. That's not unique to Pakistan. The government of Pakistan is very aware that it exists. What we have tried to do in the last several years is to engage aggressively with the Pakistan government, to communicate that we want nothing more than a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan,” he said.

Mr. Obama also spoke on the U.S.' Afghan policy, in response to a question by Romit Mehta, another student, whether the instability in Afghanistan and the “tumult” in Iraq pointed to America's “inability.”

Afghan policy

“I have said that starting July 2011, we will begin withdrawing our troop levels. When we allow the removing of our troops — keep in mind that we wrapped up significantly — because the idea was that for so many years we were just been in a holding pattern. We'd had just enough troops to keep Kabul intact, but the rest of the country deteriorated in significant ways. My attitude was, eight years from now, we don't want to be in the exact same situation. That's not a sustainable equilibrium,” Mr. Obama said.

In Iraq, he said his government was “relatively successful in doing it.” Delay in government formation in Iraq was “resulting in frustration in us and, I am sure, the Iraqi people,” Mr. Obama said.

He, however, said the Iraq example showed that “it is possible to train indigenous security forces so that they provide their own security and hopefully a politics that resolves differences.” As for Afghanistan, the situation was “more complicated and more difficult,” because of the lack of “a stronger tradition of self-government” and “underdeveloped civil services.”

With reference to the Taliban, Mr. Obama said the U.S. had communicated to Afghan President Hamid Karzai its support for “a political resolution.” “We told Mr. Karzai that if former members of the Taliban were willing to dissociate themselves from violence [and pledge allegiance] to the Afghan Constitution, then absolutely, we support a political resolution.”

Hoping that “a stable Afghanistan” was “achievable,” Mr. Obama said all countries, including Pakistan, could be partners in the process. He urged the youth to take on the promise of creating relations where nations “police each other so that there are no genocides or human rights violations.”

“Around the world your generation is poised to solve some of my generation's mistakes, my parent's generation's mistakes,” Mr. Obama said.

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