A Victory for Obama

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

From an unlikely quarter--Pakistan.

President Obama gets much credit for changing America's image in the world--he was probably awarded the Nobel Prize for doing so. But if you asked even devoted fans to cite a specific foreign-policy achievement, they would probably hesitate. "It's too soon for that," they would say. But in fact, there is a place where Barack Obama's foreign policy is working, and one that is crucial to U.S. national security--Pakistan.

There has been a spate of good news coming out of that complicated country, which has long promised to take action against Islamic militants but rarely done so. (The reason: Pakistan has used many of these same militants to destabilize its traditional foe, India, and to gain influence in Afghanistan.) Over the past few months, the Pakistani military has engaged in serious and successful operations in the militant havens of Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan, and Bajaur. Some of these areas are badlands where no Pakistani government has been able to establish its writ, so the achievement is all the more important. The Pakistanis have also ramped up their intelligence sharing with the U.S. This latter process led to the arrest a month ago of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, among other Taliban figures.

Some caveats: most of the Taliban who have been captured are small fish, and the Pakistani military has a history of "catching and releasing" terrorists so that they can impress Americans but still maintain their ties with the militants. But there does seem to be a shift in Pakistani behavior. Why it's taken place and how it might continue is a case study in the nature and limits of foreign-policy successes.

First, the Obama administration de-fined the problem correctly. Senior ad-ministration officials stopped referring to America's efforts in Afghanistan and instead spoke constantly of "AfPak," to emphasize the notion that success in Afghanistan depended on actions taken in Pakistan. This dismayed the Pakistanis but they got the message. They were on notice to show they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Second, the administration used both sticks and carrots. For his first state dinner, Obama pointedly invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh--clearly not Pakistan's first choice. Obama made clear that America would continue to pursue the special relationship forged with India under the Bush administration, including a far-reaching deal on nuclear cooperation. …