Dismantling Al Qaeda safe havens in Pakistan a top US priority

May 15th, 2009 - 11:44 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, May 15 (IANS) Disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and their safe havens in Pakistan, and preventing their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan, is a top foreign policy priority for President Barack Obama, a top US diplomat says.

“In no region of the world are the stakes higher for US national security than in South and Central Asia,” Robert O. Blake told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday at his confirmation hearing as Obama’s new point man for South and Central Asia.

The official, who would replace Richard Boucher as assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said he would do his utmost to support the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, in ensuring the success of Obama’s strategy.

A key objective of President Barack Obama’s new strategy for Pakistan is to support its efforts to promote a stable, constitutional government and increase its capability to fight extremists, he said.

Blake praised the Pakistani government and military for fighting the Taliban in the country’s Swat Valley in recent days, which has killed many militants but also displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

“We are encouraged by the steps the Pakistanis have taken in Swat,” he said.

“We do think that important progress is being made.”

But as Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made clear, “it will not be easy to achieve success in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Blake said, backing efforts to increase non-military assistance to Pakistan.

“Increasing and broadening our assistance to Pakistan is vital to strengthening its economy, governance capacity and military so Pakistan can confront extremists who promote violence and threaten security,” he said.

Noting that currently South and Central Asia is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world, Blake said: “integration is vital to help create vibrant economies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the broader region, and should be accelerated.”

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