WASHINGTON – In some of his most blunt remarks to date, US President Barack Obama said on Monday that Osama bin Laden would have escaped if the United States had sought Pakistan’s permission ahead of the raid.
During the third and final debate ahead of presidential election on November 6, President Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney said they would continue drone attacks in Pakistan if they won the vote.
Mitt Romney ruled out abandoning Pakistan, saying the South Asian country was technically an ally even though its relationship with the United States was strained.
He said what happens in Pakistan will have a major impact on the success in Afghanistan. He said that Pakistan role is very important for stability in Afghanistan. Romney agreed with the Obama policy of keeping up drone attacks inside the troubled country despite its protests.
He argued that the hits by pilotless aircraft should not be the only counterterrorism tool and must be part of a comprehensive US policy that helps other nations reject extremism.
The debate, which was moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS News, was held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
Asked by the moderator if the United States should ‘divorce’ Pakistan, Romney supported continued ties but, in line with legislation approved by the Congress, called for more conditions on US assistance.
“No, it’s not time to divorce a nation on Earth that has 100 nuclear weapons and is on the way to double that at some point, a nation that has serious threats from terrorist groups within its nation,” Romney said as he spelled out his policy towards Pakistan.
“But we do need to make sure that, as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society,” he said.
On his part, President Obama made no effort to state his position on Pakistan, and mentioned the country only a couple of times, and that too in a negative term. The president did not even acknowledge the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan in the war on terrorism.
But Romney said Pakistan was important to the United States in many ways and despite some current differences Washington should not walk away from it. He said if elected his policy toward Pakistan would be to encourage the country to have more stability and rebuild ties with the United States.
“Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the - in the relatively near future,” the Republican candidate said while discussing security transition in Afghanistan, US exit from Afghanistan in 2014 and the possible future scenario in the region.
Romney claimed that in view of the nuclear weapons, the presence of the Haqqani militants and the Taliban within Pakistan, if the country becomes a failed state, it would be of extraordinary danger.
“And so we’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met.”
Romney backed the Obama Administration’s decision to go into Pakistani territory last year when the US took out Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a unilateral raid but also acknowledged that the move upset Pakistan.
“This is an important part of the world for us. Pakistan is technically an ally, and they’re not acting very much like an ally right now. But we have some work to do. And I - I don’t blame the administration for the fact that the relationship with Pakistan is strained. We had to go into Pakistan. We had to go in there to get Osama bin Laden. That was the right thing to do. And that upset them, but obviously there was a great deal of anger even before that. But we’re going to have to work with the people in Pakistan to try and help them move to a more responsible course than the one that they’re on. And it’s important for them. It’s important for the nuclear weapons. It’s important for the success of Afghanistan.”
Staying on Pakistan, Romney said, “It’s a nation that’s not like others and that does not have a civilian leadership that is calling the shots there.
“You’ve got the ISI, their intelligence organisation is probably the most powerful of the three branches there. Then you have the military and then you have the civilian government. This is a nation which if it falls apart — if it becomes a failed state, there are nuclear weapons there and you’ve got — you’ve got terrorists there who could grab their — their hands onto those nuclear weapons”.
He feared that the Pakistani Taliban would rush into Afghanistan when the US leaves the country. “But it’s important for us to recognise that we can’t just walk away from Pakistan. But we do need to make sure that as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on - on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society,” Romney said.
Questioned about his position on the use of drones in targeting suspected terrorists, Romney responded: “I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it’s widely reported that drones are being used in strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right over the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends. But let me also note that as I said earlier, we’re going to have to do more than just going after leaders and - and killing bad guys, important as that is.”
Pakistani-Americans expressed satisfaction over Romney’s remarks about maintaining the links with Pakistan, with many saying they would vote for him.
The bin Laden raid was one of the many issues President Obama used to differentiate himself from his opponent.
For his part, President Obama recounted the US success against Al-Qaeda and the end to Iraq war under his administration. “We decimated Al-Qaeda’s core leadership in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We then started to build up Afghan forces. And we’re now in a position where we can transition out, because there’s no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country.
“Now, that transition has to take place in a responsible fashion. We’ve been there a long time, and we’ve got to make sure that we and our coalition partners are pulling out responsibly and giving Afghans the capabilities that they need.”
Obama said he remained true to his 2008 campaign pledge to take out Osama bin Laden if found on Pakistani soil and criticised Romney’s stance on the issue in the last campaign. Obama claimed that “if we had asked Pakistan permission, we would not have gotten him (bin Laden). And it was worth moving heaven and earth to get him.”
Meanwhile, in the third and final debate between US President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, India wasn’t mentioned, not even once, in the 90-minute conversation.
By comparison, Pakistan was mentioned 25 times, with Iran taking the first position with 47, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
Here is how often the following countries were mentioned:
Iran: 47 times; Israel: 34 times; China: 32 times; Syria: 28 times; Pakistan: 25 times; Afghanistan: 21 times;
“Why was India left out”, WSJ posed the question.
The bottom line, according to Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, is that “India is much less central to US foreign policy than many pundits in New Delhi would like to believe.”
“India is a large and inward-looking country and in many ways it sees itself as the centre of Asia whereas in reality as this debate shows it is not quite the case,” explains Dhume, who also contributes opinion pieces to The Wall Street Journal.
There are several reasons why India – for all the talk of its “strategic partnership” with the US – is not a major foreign policy concern for the two candidates. And the reasons are not necessarily bad, he said.
Relations between the two countries are good and stable and there is a bipartisan consensus that they should stay that way. So there is no real sense of urgency to address the US-India relationship and, as a result, less of a reason to bring it up in a debate, the newspaper said.
After all, most of Washington’s closest allies – like the whole of Europe – were either not mentioned or mentioned in passing, it was pointed out.
The countries that topped the mentions list “are overwhelmingly trouble spots,” says Dhume, “In some ways India should be happy not to be on that list.”
The focus areas of the debate were: how to handle the on-going crisis in Syria; how tough the US should be on Iran as it pursues nuclear ambitions; and how to address the relationship with China and its trade policy.
There are some areas of discord in US-India ties – including tensions over US visa rules, and over India’s nuclear liability laws – but relations are overall warm and these issues are less pressing than the foreign policy concerns mentioned above. So it’s understandable that they would get more airtime.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising that India was left out entirely of the 90-minute discussion. There were a few debate topics under which India could’ve come up but didn’t: the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the rise of China and tomorrow’s world.
The US has been encouraging India to take a bigger role in Afghanistan, including by training local security forces, as the US prepares to withdraw most of its troops by the end of 2014. The US encouragement of India to take a more active role comes as US ties with Pakistan are at a low point. Pakistan has resisted attempts by New Delhi to set closer ties with Kabul, WSJ report said.
Despite lengthy discussions on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in this, neither Obama nor Romney mentioned India – perhaps an indication that New Delhi’s influence in Kabul remains limited.
Surprisingly, India wasn’t even mentioned when Obama addressed the issue of jobs being shipped abroad. While outsourcing jobs to India has come up earlier in the campaign, in this debate it was only addressed with reference to China, which both candidates claimed didn’t play by trade rules.
“China is much more economically significant and many more jobs have been lost to China than to India,” says Dhume.
There is also little evidence to suggest that there will be major changes in India-US relations after the upcoming presidential elections.
After all, India wasn’t mentioned once in debates between Obama and then Republican candidate John McCain four years ago. And since then, the US and India have made efforts to forge deeper ties. “Just look at the string of official trips, including of Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”