by Dan De Luce
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Thursday said Islamist extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan posed a grave threat that his new administration would tackle as a single problem under a wider strategy.
In announcing a special envoy to the region, Obama said the situation was “deteriorating” and that the war in Afghanistan could not be separated from the volatile border area with Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements have regrouped.
“This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism. There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problems in isolation,” Obama told employees of the State Department.
Obama, saying US strategy would be carefully reviewed, announced the appointment of seasoned diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan — where the Taliban has come back from its ouster by US-led forces in 2001 to wage a bloody insurgency.
“There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al-Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Obama said.
“This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.”
As a candidate, Obama accused his predecessor of taking his “eye off the ball” by invading Iraq. He has vowed to send more combat troops to Afghanistan and reiterated Thursday he would place a higher priority on the region.
Obama said Holbrooke “will help lead our effort to forge and implement a strategic and sustainable approach to this critical region.”
“My administration is committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely.”
But the new president gave a stark assessment of the conditions in Afghanistan and its border with Pakistan, warning “that the American people and the international community must understand that the situation is perilous and progress will take time.”
He said violence was up sharply in Afghanistan and that “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border.”
“And while we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, Al-Qaeda terrorists remain at large and remain plotting.”
US intelligence agencies suspect Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda figures are operating out of the mountainous border region of Pakistan near Afghanistan.
Holbrooke, best known for forging a peace agreement in 1995 that ended bloodshed in Bosnia, said that Afghanistan and Pakistan were two “distinct” countries entwined by history and ethnic ties.
“This is a very difficult assignment as we all know,” said Holbrooke, once dubbed the “Bulldozer” for his no-holds-barred negotiating style in the Balkans.
Obama said that the US diplomatic effort would include working with NATO allies and other states in the region, which could include central Asian countries and India — arch-rival to Pakistan.
Tensions between the nuclear-armed adversaries spiked after attacks on Mumbai that India blamed on Pakistani militants and “official” agencies. But Islamabad has denied government agencies played any role in the November 26-29 assault that left 174 dead.(YahooNews)