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Pakistani, Afghan Leaders Welcome Obama War Strategy

By Barry Newhouse
27 March 2009

Pakistani and Afghan political leaders have welcomed the Obama administration's new strategy for stabilizing both countries. But, a deadly suicide attack that killed at least 50 people near their shared border demonstrated the challenges ahead.

Officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan praised the announcement by saying they welcome a new emphasis on a broader regional approach to the situation and new plans for non-military aid.

In Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said new development funds should expedite projects that will help win over people's hearts and minds. He also specifically addressed Pakistanis living in the country's Taliban-dominated tribal regions, saying they too can benefit from the plan.

"We expect our tribal brothers will fully cooperate because they are patriotic Pakistanis and we don't doubt their loyalty," he said. "A small minority are bent on destroying Pakistan's peace."

Hours earlier, a suicide bombing in the tribal region struck a crowded mosque along one of the main roads to Afghanistan. An official in Khyber agency said some 250 people had gathered for Friday prayers, when the bomber triggered a massive blast that devastated the mosque.

He said as soon as the cleric signaled the time to pray by saying God is great, the suicide bomber blew himself up and that the crowd included local security forces and some travelers.

The blast is the deadliest attack in Pakistan this year.

President Obama's announcement specifically addressed the need to root out al-Qaida terrorists and other militants based in the tribal region. Attacks in Afghanistan that are believed to originate from groups based in Pakistani territory have long been a source of contention between the two countries.

Afghan presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the Obama administration plan reflects key points of view of the Afghan government, particularly as it concerns the tribal areas.

"We are very pleased that the strategy recognizes the threat of al-Qaida emanating from Pakistan, and accordingly dealing with it," he said.

President Obama emphasized the shared interest that all countries have in defeating al Qaida and Taliban militants. He said the United States' clear goal in the region is to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

But Islamabad-based defense analyst Talat Masood says the Pakistani government has tried to convince its citizens of the same idea, but it has largely failed.

"The problem remains that the Pakistani state is confused about the war on terror," he said. "There are a lot of people in Pakistan who still maintain that this war has been imposed on them. And the leadership has failed in a way to convince the people that genuinely the threat is internal."

Reaction among Pakistanis to the plan has been mixed. Several analysts on news talk shows worried that President Obama's emphasis on the threats in tribal areas and the deployment of additional U.S. troops along the border are signs the Afghan war is widening and could further spill into Pakistani territory.

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