Posts Tagged ‘Obama’


NYT/AP: Raymond Davis

Where to even begin with the Raymond Davis case?

In the last few weeks, tensions have escalated between the U.S. and Pakistan. The media has dubbed it “a diplomatic row,”  but even that phrase is a gross oversimplification of the situation, which is now a convoluted, complex mess. The center of the controversy is an American allegedly named Raymond Davis who, on January 27, killed two brothers in Lahore, who he claimed were trying to rob him at gunpoint.

But two things have come increasingly into question since the incident: (1) Davis’ self-defense plea and (2) Davis’ status in Pakistan.

Although Davis claimed he shot the men in self-defense – a statement supported by the State Department – a Pakistani police report said otherwise, concluding he was “guilty of murder.” According to the Washington Post, the five-page report cited investigators’ findings that Davis “shot each victim five times, including in their backs, and lied to police about how he arrived at the scene.”

Davis’ status in Pakistan, though, has become the central issue in this diplomatic storm. Although the United States insists Raymond Davis is an American diplomat, making his arrest a clear violation of diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, the details surrounding this status appear convoluted at best, fueling cries that he is in fact a private security contractor.

Soon after the shooting, Pakistani news channels broadcast what it says were images of Davis’ passport, seemingly absent of a diplomatic visa. Dunya News later televised a mobile phone video of his alleged interrogation by Punjab police, in which Davis told authorities that he was a “consultant” for the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. In the most recent and overblown claim, the Nation reported that Davis flew “into a fury” in jail upon hearing the azaan, the Muslim call to prayer. According to the article,

The inmates facing murder charges invariably display quite caution. American killer Raymond Davis, however, is a different species. Undeterred by the implications of his case, he lives in the jail the way he wants to…“Seeing four prisoners offering Asr prayers in the corridor of their barrack, Davis started grumbling in a derogatory way,” said Shah.

While Raymond Davis could very well be a private security contractor who was operating in Pakistan, (in fact, there is a lot of evidence suggesting he is, in fact, one), media coverage that further serves to demonize him is not productive. In fact, it has ultimately made Davis a caricature, a larger-than-life character who exacerbates the emotionalism that lies at the very root of this society. And, as the diplomatic tug-of-war has continued between the U.S. and Pakistan at the top, it has stoked anti-American sentiment and tensions at the local level. The Raymond Davis case has ultimately become so enormous that there is no painless conclusion.

However, here are a few observations:

  1. The Raymond Davis case highlights the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. This is a pretty obvious statement, but the threat by U.S. lawmakers that they would halt aid to Pakistan, as well as the recent statements by  PPP’s Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab (specifically that, Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity” and, “Why we are risking our overall good reputation before the rest of the world…America is the largest market for Pakistan, with whom we earn four billion dollars.”) further emphasize just how transactional that relationship truly is. As Raza Rumi noted, “We hate America but not American aid or arms.” Let’s face facts. We are not equal partners in our relationship with the United States. We have an American sugar daddy. And though money will certainly not buy you love (especially in Pakistan), it will definitely buy you a lot of dependency. Not a good thing.
  2. The case showcases the confusion and tenuous relations within and between political parties in Pakistan. Last week, foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was dropped during the cabinet reshuffle reportedly “over his divergent opinion on the Raymond Davis issue,” when he said that Washington had pressured him for Davis’ release “but he had refused to comply on the basis that Davis is not a diplomat.” His statement led Wahab to question Qureshi’s loyalty and call for disciplinary action for humiliating party leadership. Another PPP official, in reaction to Wahab’s claim that Davis “enjoyed diplomatic immunity,” stated it was her “personal opinion,” not reflective of “party policy” or “government policy.” This series of statements highlight the confusion and lack of agreement that exists within parties. Moreover, the Davis case as a whole has and will lead to opposition parties attempting to win brownie points among the public to  gain political leverage and ultimately undermine the current government. Cue further instability.

Since this debacle started a few weeks ago, increasingly more prominent figures have stepped in, from President Obama calling Davis a diplomat and urging Pakistan to abide by the Vienna Convention, to Senator John Kerry making a last-minute trip to Pakistan to appeal for the American’s release. On the other side, Pakistani politicians are bickering while public cries for justice are growing louder by the day. You have to wonder – is there a seamless way out of this diplomatic clusterf****?

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The WTF List of the Week

LOL Cat says WTF.

TGIF! Here is my round-up of events/developments this week that really had me screeching, “WTF” [What the eff], mainly at my computer screen, television, or to no one in particular:

WTF #1: What is up with the U.S.’s unhealthy obsession with President Obama’s religion?! I just don’t understand. Remember when he had to distance himself from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright once upon a time? Let’s break it down. Pastor = Christian. Obama went to Pastor’s sermons. Obama = Christian. How is this hard to comprehend? Why do nearly one-in-five Americans believe that the President is a Muslim? And, more importantly, why does it matter?!

WTF#2: As an addendum to the first WTF, please observe this Washington Times piece by Jeffrey Kuhner, entitled, “Obama’s Islamic Agenda.” He wrote,

Mr. Obama openly bragged about his “Muslim background” and that his family had “followers of Islam.” He spoke of his youth in Indonesia, his study of the Koran and the call to Islamic prayer. In short, he discovered his inner Muslim in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Arab street.

God forbid we all get in touch with our “inner Muslim” by being tolerant, worldly, and developing some form of cultural understanding. To drive home his point – that Obama loves the Muslim World more than Amuuurrica, here was the accompanying photo:

Greg Groesch for The Washington Times

See everyone! Underneath Obama’s makeup, he is a Muslim in disguise! He even has a tatoo on his cheek to prove it! Alert the media! We have a Hajji in our midst!


WTF#3: American news channels, politicians, and figures – can we please stop with the coverage about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque“?! It’s not a mosque. It’s not at Ground Zero. Let’s reach a compromise and move on. Sarah Palin, I know the withdrawal symptoms from Twitter bashing (“twashing”) may be tough at first, but you’ll get over it. There are far more important things we should be talking about, which leads me to…

WTF#4: The U.S. media’s concentration on Obama’s religion and Park 51 (aka, the “Ground Zero Mosque”) means there’s been relatively little coverage of an enormous humanitarian disaster – the floods in Pakistan. And we wonder why many Americans aren’t that aware of the devastation of this disaster, which is ongoing. Also, when the Western media does cover the floods, it’s often done through a negative lens, and the human loss and impact of this disaster gets lost in the process. Can we please, for the love of God, recognize the millions suffering without bringing Zardari’s spending habits into the equation or the Islamist issue? Cover the disaster in a way that does justice to the families who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, to the many who don’t give a damn about politics or “strategic interests.” They care about surviving and they care about the day-to-day. Remember that.

WTF#5: Dear Pakistani government, your response to the disaster in Pakistan has been atrocious. As a Pakistani citizen, one who is peddling like mad to drum up funds to send back home, I am disgusted with your political pot shots, your disinterest in your own people, and your lip service to something unfolding in front of your eyes. Everyone has pledged aid – even Afghanistan – who barely has anything right now. If every leader who defaulted on their loans or didn’t pay taxes actually dug into their pockets, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t be calling us selfish beggars.

WTF#6: India offered aid to Pakistan when the floods began. What do our illustrious leaders do? They considered it. They refused to offer visas to 400 Indian doctors ready to come across the border and help flood victims. Even if Pakistan “accepted” the aid, why on earth did it take so long?! You might as well have taken that good will and thrown it out the window.

WTF#7: Via Huma Imtiaz (and an Express Tribune report):

The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.

Are you kidding me with this crap? Aid should be colorblind, because disasters are indiscriminate with who they impact. Your response, dear clerics (or whoever was behind this), should not be contingent on your prejudices. It should embrace every single family suffering because of this disaster. WTF.

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Image Credit: NY Times

Following the end of President Barack Obama‘s speech on the new Afghanistan strategy Tuesday, the Washington Post‘s  headline read, “‘Afghanistan Is Not Lost,’ Obama Says.” That title aptly summarizes the sentiment behind the president’s West Point address. Prior to Obama’s announcement, news agencies had already disseminated the main points – the current status quo is not “sustainable” in Afghanistan, the U.S. will be escalating their presence by 30,000 troops by the first part of 2010, a withdrawal of these forces will begin in July 2011, and power will be transitioned to the Afghan government and the Afghan people in a “responsible” manner. On Tuesday evening, the president couched these points in heavy rhetoric, emphasizing why Al Qaeda continues to be a continuous threat to the United States and its Allies, and why Americans need to continue to invest in this war.

Frankly, I did not expect much more from this speech, precisely because of what the president was trying to achieve.  Obama was primarily addressing an audience of young cadets at West Point, many of whom will be deployed as a result of this new strategy. He told them, “I know that this decision asks even more of you as a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens.” Ultimately, the president on Tuesday was trying to assert his role as the American commander-in-chief, a figure capable of making the tough decisions, a person who, despite recent critics crowing to the contrary, does not “dither” on matters of national security and safety.

As such, the speech was an unsurprising stream of expected rhetoric. But it was what Obama didn’t say that can be assessed – namely, what all this means for Pakistan, Afghanistan’s perceived “brother from another mother.” During the speech, the president touched upon Pakistan briefly and vaguely, stating,

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border. In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight… The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy…Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.

Obama went on to assert Washington’s commitment to an effective, long-term partnership with Pakistan. But during his speech, he did not make a distinction between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Doing so would have highlighted a flaw in the argument that the U.S. and Pakistan share a common enemy, particularly since Pakistan’s military is fighting the Pakistani Taliban but continues to make deals with anti-NATO/U.S. militants in North Waziristan, [see also related CHUP post]. Ultimately, getting Pakistan to see eye-to-eye with the U.S. on the Afghan Taliban is a continuing issue. Following the speech, CNN correspondent Michael Ware noted, “The war is not won or lost in Afghanistan…the key to that is in Pakistan and the [Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban] sanctuaries and safe havens [in the border region].”

Ware also brought up the regional implications of the war in Afghanistan, calling it a “chess game,” with Saudi Arabia and Iran both playing hands in the area, and India and Pakistan using it as “yet another battlefield.” Reuters, in its coverage, noted, “Many analysts say Pakistan is reluctant to take on the Afghan Taliban as it might need them to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan in case of a U.S. pullout.” Understanding these broader regional issues are key to approaching this war, and particularly a linked Pakistan strategy.

The NY Times cited Obama’s advisers who conceded that the president “could not be very specific about his Pakistan strategy” Tuesday because “American operations there are classified, most run by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The NY Times added, “In recent months, in addition to providing White House officials with classified assessments about Afghanistan, the C.I.A. delivered a plan for widening the campaign of strikes against militants by drone aircraft in Pakistan, sending additional spies there and securing a White House commitment to bulk up the C.I.A.’s budget for operations inside the country.” This was reportedly the message delivered by Gen. Jim Jones when he visited Islamabad several weeks ago, though “the Pakistanis, suspicious of Mr. Obama’s intentions and his staying power, have not yet agreed.”

Given the increasing anti-American sentiment on the ground, a broadened U.S. presence in Pakistan will undoubtedly be met with rage/indignation/burning tires.  And, if Islamabad (covertly) agrees to such terms, it will further cement the perception that we are not fighting “our” war but “America’s” war, a distinction with negative ramifications. Ultimately, as Washington continues to push this  flawed “AfPak” strategy,  the term “FakAp” increasingly seems more fitting, (credit for “FakAp” goes to @majorbuttretd on Twitter, who blogs over at Bostive Neuj).

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Apparently, I wasn’t one of the only ones a little less than impressed by President Obama‘s recent interview with Dawn. You know, the interview where Obama talks about his great love and respect for Pakistani culture, Urdu poetry, and his ability to cook keema and daal.  The ever-hilarious Jon Stewart broke it down for us on The Daily Show:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The U.S. President’s sit-down with Dawn’s Anwar Iqbal certainly seemed warm and fuzzy, but considering the U.S. drone strike that killed 45 people happened just three days later, I’d like to say, “That’s great. Now please stop bombing our country!

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Image Credit: NY Times

Image Credit: NY Times

Today, President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim World at a speech at Cairo University in Egypt, [also see my lead-up post yesterday]. In the speech, he pledged to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” imploring America and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to confront violent extremism and heal religious divides,” reported the NY Times. He asserted,

I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings…There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Quran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

The U.S. President went on to relate this new resolve to his own upbringing, noting that although he is a Christian, his father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. He added, “As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith…So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.”

The speech Thursday was not all rhetoric. Obama went on to detail his specific positions on Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the topic of Pakistan, he emphasized, “We also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced.” On Israel and Palestine, the President  noted the U.S. bond with Israel was “unbreakable,” but also noted, “It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” According to the NY Times, “He offered no major initiatives on the Middle East peace process although he put Israelis and Palestinians on notice that he intends to deal directly with what he sees as intransigence on key issues, evoking the concerns of both parties but asking both to shift ground significantly.”

Obama’s address today was not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but he never claimed it would be. In fact, in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams that aired yesterday, the President stated,

I also don’t want to, you know, load up too many expectations on this speech. After all, one speech is not going to transform very real policy differences and some very difficult issues surrounding the Middle East and the relationship between Islam and the west…And the question then is how do we now go forward with a honest, serious relationship based on mutual respect and mutual interest?

The speech was powerful in its messaging. Obama demonstrated a true understanding of the ideological divide that currently exists between the U.S. and Islam, or the “Islamic World,” and exhibited a resolve to address this problem and change perceptions on either side. This marks a dramatic paradigm shift from the Bush adminstration era, which often polarized the conflict into an “us” versus “them” issue that only further exacerbated this divide. Obama attempted to bridge this gap throughout his speech, quoting the Quran not once, but three times and even noted that the first American Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, “took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Quran that one of our Founding Fathers  – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.” It was, as the NY Times noted, “the riskiest speech of his young presidency.”

The question that now remains is, will Obama carry out the foreign policy objectives he outlined in Cairo? Will they turn into concrete initiatives? Will his order to close Guantanamo Bay actually occur? And, in terms of Pakistan, [since that is the focus of this blog], will the $1.5 billion in aid finally move past Capitol Hill in Washington to our country? While all of these questions are up for debate, I will say that I was inspired by Obama’s speech. His presidency represents an attempt to rebrand America in order to better its perceptions throughout the world, not just among Muslims.

He also is redefining what it means to be an American – that a Muslim-American is just as American as anyone else. As he noted, “So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.” That point is important because it exemplifies a fundamental shift in the U.S. leadership that was not evident in the past eight years. What were your thoughts on the address?

If you missed the speech, you can watch the video below, or read the full transcript here.

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Image Credit: NY Times

Image Credit: NY Times

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera aired segments of what they said was a new audiotape by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In the recording, Bin Laden asserted that U.S. policy in Pakistan has planted “new seeds of hatred and revenge against America,” adding that President Obama has proved he is “walking the same road of his predecessors to build enmity against Muslims and increasing the number of fighters, and establishing more lasting wars.” According to CNN, the speaker on the tape cited U.S. strikes, destruction and Obama’s “order” to President Zardari “to prevent the people of Swat from implementing Sharia law.” The message went on to say:

All this led to the displacement of about a million Muslim elders, women and children from their villages and homes. They became refugees in tents after they were honored in their own homes…This basically means that Obama and his administration put new seeds of hatred and revenge against America. The number of these seeds is the same as the number of those victims and refugees in Swat and the tribal area in northern and southern Waziristan. The American people need to prepare to only gain what those seeds bring up.

A CNN analysis of the audiotape as it aired indicated the voice on the tape sounds like bin Laden’s. CBS News cited U.S. intelligence officials who further confirmed the authenticity of the tape, but assured, “There’s no reason at this point to believe that any specific or credible threat is contained” in the message. A counterterrorism official told CBS, “There has never been a fake bin Laden tape. In the past, he has timed the release of the messages to major events. So it’s unsurprising that he chose this particular week…While the words are different, this latest message recycles many of the broad themes of messages past.” The NY Times, in its coverage, noted that the recording, if verified, is a signal that bin Laden “remains alive and in touch with current events, and that he retains effective channels of communication with the outside world.”

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke addressed the audiotape during a press conference with Zardari today, and stated it was “ludicrous” to suggest that anyone but Al Qaeda and the Taliban are responsible for the refugee crisis in Pakistan. The U.S. official arrived in Pakistan Wednesday to assess the plight of the 2.4 million people displaced by the conflict in Pakistan’s northwest, reported Dawn. GEO Television quoted him during the news conference saying, “Today, the [U.S.] President has asked me to inform you and your government that he has requested the Congress of the United States to allocate an additional 200 million dollars…He [Obama] sent our team to Pakistan to do several things, first to show our concern to the people of Pakistan and to the world our concern for the internal refugees.”

Obama, meanwhile, is in Saudi Arabia on the first leg of his Middle East & Europe tour. The Osama bin Laden message was therefore strategically timed to be released as the U.S. President arrived in the Middle East, a trip intended to address a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. On Thursday, the U.S. President will address the relationship between the United States and the Islamic World in a speech at the University of Cairo, [it will air at 610 EST]. According to BBC News, Obama “will hope to break with the hostility of recent years and set a new tone designed not only to isolate the extremists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but to re-establish the understanding America gained on 9/11 and lost in Iraq.

Although some have criticized the way Obama speaks about Islam as an entity, suggesting it “gives ammunition to those who define Islam as a political movement as well as a religion,” the administration’s press secretary Robert Gibbs said tomorrow’s speech “will outline his personal commitment to engagement, based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. He will discuss how the United States and Muslim communities around the world can bridge some of the differences that have divided them.”

Today, the NY Times featured a series of opinions from the region on what Obama should say in Thursday’s address. Shahan Mufti, a journalist from Pakistan, wrote,

When President Obama addresses the Muslim world his words will be best understood by the people of Pakistan — literally, that is, because this is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. And today, with Pakistan being torn apart in a battle between the ideas of Western democracy and Islamic law, its people could use a few encouraging words from the American president, in the language the two nations share.

Below, is an Associated Press report featuring further opinions from Muslims around the world. I’d like CHUP readers to weigh in on this question as well – As Obama prepares to deliver his speech to the Muslim World tomorrow, what would you like to hear him say?

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Image: NY Times

Image: NY Times/Reuters

President Obama unveiled his new Afghanistan strategy to reporters today, after a “careful policy review” led by Brookings Institution‘s Bruce Reidel. In his speech, Obama asserted the situation “is increasingly perilous,” and sought to answer the questions, “What is our purpose in Afghanistan?” and “Why do our men and women fight and still die there?” The President emphasized that Al Qaeda and its allies are in Pakistan and Afghanistan and the organization is still planning attacks on the United States from its safe haven in Pakistan. Ultimately, the President stated that his administration’s purpose is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat AQ” in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and prevent its return to either country in the future.

At the same time, Obama promised neither to write a “blank check” nor to “blindly stay the course” if his risky new strategy does not achieve its ambitious goals. Instead, he affirmed that we cannot succeed with “bullets and bombs alone,” adding, “We stand for something different.” The President therefore called upon Congress to pass the bipartisan Kerry-Lugar bill, which would authorize $1.5 billion aid to Pakistan every year for the next five years, as well as a bill that would create “opportunity zones” for exports. According to CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, this conditional aid would offer an incentive to the Pakistani government and military to crack down further on the militants. For Afghanistan, Obama announced the U.S. “will send 4,000 more troops to train Afghan security forces on top of the 17,000 extra combat troops that he already ordered to Afghanistan shortly after taking office.” The NY Times reported, “For now, Mr. Obama has decided not to send additional combat forces, they said, although military commanders at one point had requested a total of 30,000 more American troops. Even so, the strategy he endorsed on Friday effectively gives Mr. Obama full ownership of the war just as its violence is spilling back and forth across the border with Pakistan.”

Obama’s speech was based in rhetoric, and therefore wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, [actual benchmarks for both Afghanistan and Pakistan are slated to be released soon]. However, the newly elected U.S. president did consistently frame Al Qaeda and its allies’ goals as contrary to those of the Pakistani and Afghan people. Not only that, but he likened the needs and desires of Americans to those of Pakistanis, noting they all wanted an end to terror, access to basic services, and an opportunity to live their dreams within the the rule of law. “The single greatest threat to that future,” he added, “comes from Al Qaeda.” President Obama further asserted,

Nearly 3,000 of our people were killed on September 11, 2001, for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Al Qaeda and its allies have since killed thousands of people in many countries. Most of the blood on their hands is the blood of Muslims, who al Qaeda has killed and maimed in far greater number than any other people. That is the future that al Qaeda is offering to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan — a future without hope or opportunity; a future without justice or peace.

The U.S. President also pledged to help Pakistan with its economic crisis and support its institutions. He also promised to help lessen tensions between India and Pakistan by engaging in “constructive diplomacy” with both nations. A trilateral dialogue among Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States, led by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sec. of Defense Robert Gates will also be held regularly, and the United States will work to enhance intelligence sharing and military training along the Pak-Afghan border.

All in all, I liked President Obama’s speech. However, I am still cautious and skeptical. I appreciated how he addressed the Pakistani people [he obviously knows that the war against militancy can only be won if the Pakistani people support it], and asserted support for our economic crisis, as well as the importance of improving relations with India. His rhetoric demonstrated an understanding that Pakistan’s problems cannot be solved through military means alone. However, because the goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al Qaeda is so broad, I am anxious to learn what methods will be used to achieve that strategy. Will that involve more U.S. drone strikes with collateral damage, attacks that threaten to create more sympathizers for Taliban and AQ militants? Or will the Pakistani military and police be trained to take further ownership of the fight [to the U.S. liking]? The U.S. government has to begin redefining their approach to Pakistan. However, if these attacks continue, it may damage their ability to successfully undertake this new strategy.

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President Barack Obama sat down with Al-Arabiya television today in his “first formal interview as the American president,” [see clip above for full interview]. The Associated Press called the segment “part of a concerted effort to repair relations with the Muslim world that were damaged under the previous administration.” The news agency added in its coverage, “Obama cited his Muslim background and relatives, practically a taboo issue during the U.S. presidential campaign, and said in the interview, which aired Tuesday, that one of his main tasks was to communicate to Muslims ‘that the Americans are not your enemy.'” CNN aired a clip of Obama asserting, “We can have disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians, and we will hunt them down. But to the broader Muslim world, what we are going to offer is a hand of friendship.” The newly inaugurated president added, “My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people that simply want to live their lives…my job to the Muslim world is to communicate that Americans are not your enemy.”

CNN’s Rick Sanchez spoke with Professor Fawaz Gerges [of Sarah Lawrence College and author of several books including, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy], who commented on Obama’s statements today. When asked, “If this was a public relations war, is Al Qaeda winning,” Gerges replied, “I don’t think AQ is winning the war at all. In fact, I have argued all along that [they] lost the war of ideas in the last two years, and what Obama is trying to do is hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of AQ.” The professor called this approach “a very promising beginning,” adding that the policy will ultimately “make the U.S. safer”  and  go a long way to repair the bridges [of trust] between U.S. and Muslim world. [For a related & interesting article on the growing irrelevance of Al Qaeda, read this piece by The Economist.]

The interview today was significant because of how Obama framed “the enemy.” There was a marked shift from past Bush administration policy, which often polarized good and bad, using abstract phrases like “The Axis of Evil,” the “War on Terror,” and “you’re either with us or against us.” President Obama acknowledged the “gray area” in today’s televised segment, drawing the distinction between terrorist organizations and the people of the “Muslim World” who, as he asserted, do extraordinary things and want extraordinary things for their children. His rhetoric demonstrated an understanding of the complexities that exist in the international community today, a far cry from the policy over the last eight years.

Putting rhetoric into practice may prove difficult though, particularly in regard to Pakistan, and the continued air strikes in our tribal areas, [see recent post on recent drone attacks]. Today, Dawn reported that Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced during a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the United States “will continue to carry out missile strikes against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan.” The news agency noted in its coverage, “‘Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that,’ Gates said. Asked by committee chairman Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, if that decision had been conveyed to the Pakistani government, Gates replied: ‘Yes, sir.'”

Hmmm. Is it ever justifiable for the U.S. to hit targets if it means coming on to Pakistani soil? What if the only casualties are Al Qaeda or Taliban-linked militants? Will it impact the Obama administration’s new olive branch to the Muslim World? I pose these questions not only because I’m conflicted over the answers, but because I think it’s an interesting opening for discussion.

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Two U.S. missile strikes hit Pakistan’s North Waziristan today, media outlets reported, the first to occur during Barack Obama‘s administration. CNN’s Reza Sayah noted, “This is perhaps a loud message by the new Barack Obama administration. Many people were very cautious what type of military strategy this administration would use in Pakistan’s tribal region. Would this administration continue the controversial U.S. missile strikes from those unmanned drones…on this Friday night we seem to have an answer, and it seems to be yes.” The first strike occurred around 5:15 pm Pakistan time, and reportedly killed 10 people. According to the Associated Press, “At least five of the dead were identified as foreign militants,” and most news agencies noted the area has been identified as a “safe haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants.”

CNN also spoke with their Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who confirmed that the strikes were perpetrated by unmanned drones, “most likely operated by members of the U.S. intelligence community.” She added that it is very likely that President Obama will continue this policy of U.S. strikes “with no hesitation.” Starr asserted, “Expect this first strike to be followed by additional ones.” CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, on the “Situation Room” sat down with former President Musharraf today, who commented on this recent development. Musharraf told Blitzer, “Nobody in Pakistan is comfortable with the strikes across the border, public opinion is very against it…we have to find a way out…that satisfies [Pakistani] public opinion and is in line with our resolve to fight terrorism.”

I don’t know about you, but I was extremely disappointed to hear about today’s air strikes. Maybe the policy of “change” doesn’t apply to the U.S. approach to Pakistan. Maybe as Musharraf noted in the interview, “Policies don’t change with personalities…” What do you think?

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Yesterday, the United States ushered in a new political era with the swearing in of the nation’s 44th president – Barack Obama. In his inauguration speech yesterday, Obama became the first president to address the Islamic World, asserting, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” Although his rhetoric was powerful, I wonder how much real “change” will be underway in Washington. The NY Times wrote Tuesday, “Some abroad bridled and some were reassured by the recurring foreign policy motif of Mr. Obama’s address — his resolve that the United States, as it rebuilds at home, will not give up its long-established role as the leader of the free world. And while many hailed the change of tone, others were uncertain that real change was coming, given the realities of American politics and the world that has not altered with the transition in Washington.”

Nevertheless, I am still cautiously hopeful. Obama, with VP Joe Biden at his side, may take a less polarizing approach to Pakistan, especially given the recent Biden-Kerry-Lugar legislation, which promises an annual $1.5 billion of socio-economic assistance to our country [garnering Biden the prestigious Hilal-e-Pakistan award]. In an op-ed released today, Maliha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador the U.S., wrote, “How Obama manages issues in the Muslim world will determine the success or failure of his foreign policy because it is here that the greatest challenges lie…” In regards to Pakistan, she further noted:

Washington should cease unilateral strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Its aggressive approach has inflamed public opinion, undercut Islamabad’s own counterinsurgency efforts, and risked destabilizing an already fragile country. Instead, Washington should help strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to contain militants. The Obama administration should also break decisively with the Bush legacy of treating Pakistan as hired help rather than as a valued ally. Pakistan has paid a heavy price – both human and in terms of its socioeconomic stability – for being a frontline ally of the U.S. Thousands of people, including 3,000 law enforcement personnel, have been killed in terrorist violence since 2001. The economic cost is estimated to be around $34 billion.

Ultimately, the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the world has been one of relief, to the say the least. Regardless if change is really in the cards, people seemed more than eager for an end to the Bush era. Above are two pictures I took in Washington, D.C. two days ago, where an enormous inflatable George Bush doll was set up for people to throw shoes at. Yes, shoes – a la the Iraq-shoe-throwing incident not too long ago [see related CHUP post]. Every time a person managed to get a pair of shoes around “Bushoccio‘s” nose [as the badge on the doll’s chest read], the crowd cheered. Just a small example of the fervor that persisted in Washington this inauguration week.

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