At a White House news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the US president also indicated that Pakistan dominated at least part of his almost three-hour long consultations with the Afghan leader and his team.
“In support of the final part of our strategy, a regional approach, we discussed the importance of Afghanistan’s neighbours supporting Afghan sovereignty and security,” he said.
He then recalled that he had hosted President Karzai and President Asif Ali Zardari together at the White House a year ago. “And our trilateral cooperation will continue,” he declared.
“Indeed, Pakistan’s major offensive against extremist sanctuaries and our blows against the leadership of Al Qaeda and its affiliates advance the security of Pakistanis, Afghans and Americans alike,” observed Mr Obama.
One of Pakistan’s bad habits that Mr Obama mentioned in the news conference was its obsession with India.
While the US leader acknowledged that Pakistan was now overcoming this habit to also recognise extremists as a major threat, he forgot to mention that India had an equally unhealthy obsession with Pakistan.
“I think there has been in the past a view on the part of Pakistan that their primary rival, India, was their only concern,” he said.
“What you’ve seen over the last several months is a growing recognition that they have a cancer in their midst; that the extremist organisations that have been allowed to congregate and use as a base the frontier areas to then go into Afghanistan — that now threatens Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
The US, he said, was determined to help improve relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Our goal is to break down some of the old suspicions and the old bad habits and continue to work with the Pakistani government to see their interest in a stable Afghanistan which is free from foreign meddling,” he said.
Mr Obama urged Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and the international community to work together to reduce the influence of extremists in that region.
What coaxed a lengthy explanation from Mr Obama of his relations with Pakistan was a comment by an Afghan journalist who said that Pakistan was “the only reason that Afghanistan was not civilised” today.
“President Karzai and I have, in the past, President Zardari, as well as their intelligence officers, their military, their teams, and emphasised to Pakistan the fact that our security is intertwined,” said Mr Obama.
“And I am actually encouraged by what I’ve seen from the Pakistani government over the last several months,” he added.
“But just as it’s going to take some time for Afghanistan’s economy, for example, to fully recover from 30 years of war, it’s going to take some time for Pakistan, even where there is a will, to find a way in order to effectively deal with these extremists in areas that are fairly loosely governed from Islamabad.”
Mr Obama said that he had been encouraged by Pakistan’s willingness to start asserting more control over some of the areas where the extremists lived.
“But it is not going to happen overnight,” he warned, recalling that Pakistan too had taken “enormous casualties,” as the Pakistani military fought the extremists “fairly aggressively”.
President Obama, who came to the briefing after a detailed meeting with the Afghan leader at the White House, said President Karzai and he also discussed “the fact that the only way ultimately that Pakistan is secure is if Afghanistan is secure”.
“And the only way that Afghanistan is secure is if the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, the Afghan constitution, the Afghan people are respected by their neighbours.”
He said he believed that the message was starting to get through, “but it’s one that we have to continue to promote”.
Overshadowed by the Afghan obsession with Pakistan was President Karzai’s response to a question about his effort to seek reconciliation with the Taliban.
He said that there were thousands of Taliban who were “not against Afghanistan or against the Afghan people or their country; who are not against America either or the rest of the world”.
Such Taliban supporters, he noted, wanted to come back to Afghanistan if given an opportunity and provided the political means.
“It’s this group of the Taliban that you’re addressing in the peace Jirga. It is this group that is our intention,” said Mr Karzai who wants to hold a grand Jirga on this issue soon after he returns to Kabul.
Mr Karzai did not directly criticise Pakistan, but he made a reference to the Taliban who were “controlled from outside in any manner troublesome to us”.
This, and President Obama’s decision to mention Pakistan in his opening statement as well, confirmed the assumption that Kabul’s problems with Islamabad also dominated the talks between the two presidents.
“Today we are reaffirming our shared goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future,” said Mr Obama.
The United States, he said, was working to promote “regional cooperation, including with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border”.