Tag Archives: President Obama

Obama, Zardari meet at NATO summit in Chicago

President Obama meets with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Chicago

Counter to numerous media reports that President Obama “snubbed” or “shunned” Pakistani President Zardari, the two met twice during the NATO summit in Chicago, including a brief one-on-one conversation according to media reports – and the White House itself.

The two presidents did not have a formal bilateral meeting in Chicago, but this was likely a function of the fact that, despite Pakistan’s central role in resolving the Afghan conflict, neither side wanted ongoing US-Pakistan negotiations to overshadow the broader issues related to stabilizing Afghanistan and transferring control of that nation’s security to domestic forces.

When Presidents Obama and Zardari did meet, they each conveyed the priorities of their constituencies: President Obama reportedly “emphasised to Zardari that Pakistan “has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan,” while President Zardari told Obama “that unless drone attacks were brought to an immediate halt, things would not return to normal.”

Meanwhile, the White House expressing confidence that US-Pakistan negotiations are on a positive trajectory, and a solution that satisfies the concerns of both sides is near.

Statement by the President on the Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti

President Barack Obama Official PortraitI am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti today in Islamabad, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence.  We offer our profound condolences to his family, loved ones and all who knew and worked with him. Minister Bhatti fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear – the right to speak one’s mind, to practice one’s religion as one chooses, and to be free from discrimination based on one’s background or beliefs.  He was clear-eyed about the risks of speaking out, and, despite innumerable death threats, he insisted he had a duty to his fellow Pakistanis to defend equal rights and tolerance from those who preach division, hate, and violence.  He most courageously challenged the blasphemy laws of Pakistan under which individuals have been prosecuted for speaking their minds or practicing their own faiths. Those who committed this crime should be brought to justice, and those who share Mr. Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom must be able to live free from fear. Minister Bhatti will be missed by all who knew him, and the United States will continue to stand with those who are dedicated to his vision of tolerance and dignity for all human beings.

Do Not Cut Aid Over Raymond Davis

Questions about the fate of Raymond Davis continue to complicate US-Pakistan relations. Today, President Obama called on Pakistan to release the American pursuant to the Vienna Conventions. The Pakistani government continues to call on the question of Davis’s immunity to be decided by Pakistan’s courts. While Tuesday did see some potential progress on the issue, it remains to be seen how the situation will ultimately play out.

Bradley Klapper’s report for The Sydney Morning Herald makes an important observation:

[Raymond Davis’s] detention has become a point of honour for both nations, and a rallying point for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

According to Klapper, the US government is considering several options in response to Pakistan’s refusal to return Davis, some of which center on isolating the South Asian nuclear power.

US officials hinted broadly that they may cancel or postpone an invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister to visit Washington this month.

The Obama administration also is reportedly considering a slowdown in visa processing for Pakistanis seeking to come to the US. That would be hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where grievance already runs high over the perception that the US discriminates or holds back in granting visas to Pakistanis.

The US is also considering suspending or cutting back on military and educational training programs with the Pakistani armed forces and suspending or cutting back on civilian educational, scientific, cultural and local and state government exchanges, one official said.

Cutting aid and attempting to isolate Pakistan would not only be a huge mistake, it would result in a policy failure of immense proportions due to two important realities: Pakistan’s geography and demographics.

Pakistan is on the verge of a demographic explosion.

If current demographic trends continue the country’s population is projected to reach 238 million in 2030 and 335 million in 2050. Of the current population of 172 million, 66 per cent is below 30 years. 39 million are between the ages of 15-24.

Simply put, a nation of 300 million people cannot be contained. Past attempts to influence Pakistan by cutting aid reinforced the narratives of Islamist militants and resulted in nuclear proliferation. The US is going to have to engage Pakistan, and engage them as peers, not as patrons.

Pakistan is also bordered by two nations that would be more than happy to step in and fill any space left by an American withdrawal of engagement: Iran and China. As China passes Japan as the second largest economy in the world, it is also moving to expand its influence in Asia. At the end of 2010, China signed $30 billion in trade deals with Pakistan, and announced plans to build a fifth nuclear reactor in the country.

While less able to provide Pakistan with economic and military assistance than China, Iran poses potential difficulties of its own. Its own isolation at the hands of US policy would create an opportunity for the two nations to overcome sectarian differences to help each other through the construction and control of regional energy infrastructure as well providing leverage for Iran to influence Pakistan to trade in nuclear technology as a means of securing much-needed state revenue.

Thankfully, calls for cutting aid to Pakistan appear to be going unrecognized by the White House. President Barack Obama this week proposed over $3 Billion for Pakistan in the 2012 budget. This investment includes $1.5 billion in funds allocated under Kerry-Lugar-Berman, $350 million in military financing, and $1.1 billion in counterinsurgency funding. It is imperative to building trust between the US and Pakistan that the US to make good on its promises to provide economic, civilian, and military assistance. This funding should not be made conditional on the release of Raymond Davis.

Diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes. Sen. John Kerry’s apology to the people of Pakistan was an important first step in overcoming confusion about Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status and American respect for Pakistani lives. Making good on obligations to invest in Pakistan’s national security and economic growth are another important part of the solution.

An Economic Task Force For Pakistan

Delivering aid in Pakistan faces several challenges including a lack of capacity among local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in some areas and critical perceptions of American intentions among the local population. While vital to laying the groundwork for economic development, aid is not enough. What Pakistan needs is greater access to world markets and increased foreign direct investment (FDI) to develop under-resourced sectors of its domestic economy. President Obama should facilitate this investment by convening a new economic task force for Pakistan.

Pakistan's under-resourced industries are an economic opportunity for American investment

“Trade, not aid” has been a consistent theme of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. During last summer’s historic flooding, the Pakistani leader thanked the world’s nations for their generous assistance, but reminded them that what the country really needs is greater access to the global marketplace – a point reiterated by President Zardari during a visit to Washington earlier this month to honor the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

An article by Muhammad Aftab, an Islamabad based journalist, in Monday’s Daily Times examines the current state of foreign direct investment in Pakistan, and identifies several opportunities for increased investment in Pakistan’s under-resourced energy sector including oil and natural gas exploration and production, hydro and thermal power, and enmerging sources of renewable energy.

To facilitate Pakistan’s domestic economic growth and advance our shared goal of a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan, President Obama should convene a special task force similar to his recently announced Council On Jobs And Competitiveness headed by GE CEO Jeffery Immelt to develop a strategy for shifting from aid-based investment to private sector/FDI based development.

The task force should comprise a joint public-private venture of corporate executives and diplomats with experience in South Asia, and should be tasked with a mission to identify opportunities for American companies to invest in Pakistan and areas where the government can help facilitate such investment either through federal regulation or international diplomacy.

Unlike aid-based development, this approach would directly benefit both parties by opening a two-way path for economic expansion between US and Pakistani markets while simultaneously bolstering Pakistan’s developing economic sectors with much needed capital and expertise. Additionally, it will avoid past misunderstandings as the results of the task force will not be money ‘with strings attached’, but cooperative efforts between American and Pakistani industry.

In convening this task force, President Obama would also clearly demonstrate that the US is not repeating past mistakes by using aid as a temporary incentive for Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan, only to abandon the country when the fighting ceases. Such a move could have a significant impact in reducing anti-American sentiment once the Pakistani people see that the US is not a fair-weather friend, but a long time partner and ally with a long-term interest in Pakistan’s success.

According to Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Sheikh, “Pakistan has a very liberal investment regime. There are no restrictions on FDI and inflow of capital and outflow dividend income. The current investment policies are tailor-made to meet the investors’ needs.” Sheikh also said, “There is a great potential for investment in the fields of oil and gas, corporate faring, agriculture and infrastructure.”

China recognizes the untapped economic potential in Pakistan, which is why President Hu Jintao recently signed trade and investment deals with Pakistan worth $35 billion. The US would be remiss to pass up such an opportunity.

White House Boosts Support For Pakistan

President Obama and President ZardariIn the wake of the tragic assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer this week, the White House has signaled that it will increase support for Pakistan’s civilian government including military aid to strengthen its national security.

According to a Washington Post report on Saturday, “The Obama administration has decided to offer Pakistan more military, intelligence and economic support, and to intensify U.S. efforts to forge a regional peace”.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Pakistan next week to meet with government and military officials to discuss Pakistan’s needs and how the US can help.

In addition to providing additional economic and military support to Pakistan, the White House emphasized again the respect US has for Pakistan as a sovereign nation and a close ally.

The review resolved to “look hard” at what more could be done to improve economic stability, particularly on tax policy and Pakistan’s relations with international financial institutions. It directed administration and Pentagon officials to “make sure that our sizeable military assistance programs are properly tailored to what the Pakistanis need, and are targeted on units that will generate the most benefit” for U.S. objectives, said one senior administration official who participated in the review and was authorized to discuss it on condition of anonymity.

Any American policy will be developed with the intention of furthering American objectives. The fact that support for Pakistan is being “properly tailored to what the Pakistanis need” emphasizes not only American respect for Pakistan, but that American and Pakistani objectives have a clear point of convergence.

As the democratic government continues to build consensus around and implement important reforms such as the 18th Amendment and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, the US must continue to provide the economic, military and diplomatic assistance to help Pakistan succeed.

What's Really Going On In Pakistan?

The headlines about Pakistan lately have been unpleasant. Between tensions over a botched air strike, Bob Woodward’s new book, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s announcement that he’s returning to the country – a lot of people are wondering if change is afoot. But media headlines notwithstanding, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Pakistan will not undergo another sudden extra-constitutional change.

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Obama Administration Stands Behind Pakistan's Government

Predicting the fall of the government has been a popular parlor game in Pakistan. In some ways, this is to be expected – Pakistan has actually existed under military rule for more years than under democratic. But while it might not be surprising that political commentators default to rumors of coups and ‘caretaker’ governments, there is one group of Pakistan watchers that firmly believes the civilian government will not fall – the White House.

According to Bob Woodward’s new book, the Obama administration has made a strategic decision to support democracy in Pakistan for the long haul, reversing past approaches that saw support for military dictators as a way of achieving near-term goals.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

This comes shortly after statements by Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, that the US will only support a democratically elected civilian government, making it quite clear that the official US position is to support democracy in Pakistan.

Statement by the President on Pakistan's Independence Day

President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari talking at the White House

“On behalf of the people of the United States of America, I send my congratulations and sincere best wishes to all who will celebrate the 63rd anniversary of Pakistan’s independence.  Here at home, I am proud of the many contributions Pakistani Americans have made to our nation and will continue to make in the years to come.  Pakistan’s Independence Day is a useful time to reflect on the friendships Pakistan has in the world and the expressions of true friendship that come in a time of need.

“This Independence Day anniversary also comes at a time of great challenge for the people of Pakistan as they bravely respond to widespread and unprecedented flooding.  In line with the deepening partnership between our two nations, I have directed my administration to continue to work closely with the Government of Pakistan and provide assistance in their response to this crisis.  We have rushed financial assistance, life saving and life sustaining relief supplies, helicopters, rescue boats, and disaster management experts to assist the Pakistani authorities.  The people of America stand with the people of Pakistan through this difficult time and will continue to urge the international community to increase their support and assistance. We will remain committed to helping Pakistan and will work side by side with you and the international community toward a recovery that brings back the dynamic vitality of your nation.”

Source: White House

Statement by the President on the Occasion of Ramadan

Official portrait of Barack ObamaOn behalf of the American people, Michelle and I want to extend our best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God. This is a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared. But Ramadan is also a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and pray during the night; when Muslims provide support to others to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.

These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings. Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality. And here in the United States, Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country. And today, I want to extend my best wishes to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – as you welcome the beginning of Ramadan.

I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.

May God’s peace be upon you.

-President Barack Obama

Source: White House

How Petraeus Can Be Successful

Gen. Petraeus meets with Pakistani Gen. Kayani

Following President Obama’s appointing Gen. David Petraeus as Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, commentary has largely been that the change in leadership does not entail a change in strategy. While this is true in the the broader view of American foreign policy and military strategy, progress is often won or lose due to nuance and detail. As such, Gen. Petraeus has a unique opportunity to bring important success to what some complained was a stalled effort in the region.

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