President Obama's speech to the Muslim world from Cairo was an important initiative to present a softer image of the United States with a view to defusing tensions, removing mistrust and building up bridges of understanding on major issues confronting the Muslims. It was in a marked contrast with the high-handed approach and the cowboy foreign policy which had been pursued by the Bush administration under the influence of the neocons in dealing with the Muslim world. Whereas the Bush administration relied primarily on the threat or use of force in the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives, President Obama's emphasis is on dialogue and negotiations. Whereas the Bush era was marked by a confrontational approach towards the Muslim world as evidenced by its handling of Iraq and Iran, Obama has indicated his preference for cooperation and partnership. Whereas the architects of the Bush foreign policy were influenced by the theory of clash of civilizations, Obama has expressed support for interfaith dialogue and the principles of justice, progress, tolerance, equality and human dignity that the US and Islam share. Whereas the Bush administration put forward the doctrine of unilateral pre-emptive intervention and sought global domination, Obama in recognition of our common humanity has called for the sharing of challenges facing mankind. Obama's declaration that the US does not want to keep its troops in Afghanistan and does not seek military bases there would be welcomed generally, particularly because the presence of the American troops in Afghanistan instead of encouraging peace in the country on the basis of national reconciliation is feeding the raging armed conflict there and is fast turning into a source of instability in that war-torn land. Obama does acknowledge that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan but what is missing is the reference to any new political initiative to restore peace and stability in that country. The on-going war in Afghanistan has several sub-sets. At one plane, it is a war between the US-led coalition forces and Al Qaeda and its violent extremist supporters. This is how Washington would like the world to look at this armed conflict. But, looked at differently, it is also a war being fought by the Pakhtun tribes to regain their dominant position in the political dispensation in Afghanistan, a position which has been denied to them since the overthrow of the government of the Taliban, who were mostly Pakhtun, by the US with the active assistance of the Northern Alliance which drew its support from non-Pakhtun communities in Afghanistan. Another dimension of the conflict is related to the legendary resistance of the Afghan people to the presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan. It is not without good reason that Afghanistan has acquired the reputation of being the graveyard of empires. The fourth subset of the armed conflict in Afghanistan is related to its cross-border ethnic, tribal and cultural linkages, and to the interests of the various regional powers in that country. The answer to this problem is not to use overwhelming power to bludgeon the Pakhtuns into submission because that would be a recipe for a prolonged conflict with at best uncertain results. The restoration of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan instead requires creative diplomacy on the part of the US to isolate and defeat Al Qaeda and its violent extremist supporters, engage politically the moderate Taliban, the Pakhtun tribes and other communities in Afghanistan to work out a new political dispensation based on national reconciliation in which every community's legitimate aspirations are fulfilled, and invite Afghanistan's neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Iran, and major powers to endorse the power-sharing formula which is agreed upon by the Afghan people. One hopes that this is the real mission of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke because the mere provision of development assistance, necessary as it is, and reliance on brute force will not resolve America's problems in Afghanistan and bring closer the day when the US troops can leave the country with the confidence that it will remain peaceful and stable. There are other blind spots also in Obama's thought process as reflected in his speech. While calling upon the Palestinians to abandon violence, he seems to ignore the atrocities that Israel has committed against the Palestinians killing innumerable innocent children, women and the aged in the process. Asking the Palestinians to abandon their right to self-defence while they are being subjected to indiscriminate attacks by the Israelis cannot be justified morally or legally. While declaring that "violence is a dead end", he seems to ignore that the US itself has resorted to the use of force both internally, e.g. the American civil war, and externally when it felt threatened as in the case of 9/11. He himself justifies America's resort to the use of force in Afghanistan as long as the threat from violent extremists persists. He cannot preach what the US itself is not prepared to practice. In fact, the right to self-defence is enshrined in international law and the UN Charter. It is morally wrong and legally inadmissible to ask a people to give up their right to self-defence in the face of aggression and persecution. Obama must understand that Palestine is the single most important issue which has alienated the Muslim world from the US. The blind support which the US has extended to Israel most of the time despite the latter's violation of international law and the UN resolutions, and despite the forcible annexation of the Palestinian territories has caused widespread outrage among the Muslims. If Obama really wishes to develop a relationship of amity and cooperation between the US and the Muslim world, he must actively engage his country in efforts for a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of the two-state formula, the total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, a just resolution of the Palestinian issue and a mutually satisfactory settlement of the issue of Jerusalem. It is thus not enough to tell Israel to stop new settlements. It must be reminded in unequivocal terms of its legal obligations to dismantle all settlements on the occupied territory. Obama's decision to discuss the nuclear issue and other problems with Iran without preconditions is a welcome development. But it is interesting that while Obama rightly expects Iran to remain faithful to its obligation under the NPT not to develop nuclear weapons and acknowledges its right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, his main concern is about avoiding a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. In other words, it appears as if he is acquiescing into Israel's monopoly on nuclear weapons in the region. The points made by Obama about democracy, religious freedom, women's rights and economic development are by and large unexceptionable. His emphasis on economic development, education, and science and technology is especially noteworthy. It is ironical that the followers of a religion which places so much emphasis on education should be listening to sermons from others on the importance of acquiring education. The responsibility for this sad state of affairs in the Muslim world lies squarely with our decadent leadership. In the case of Pakistan, the situation is particularly disturbing as we have been generally allocating less than two per cent of the GDP to education as against the international norm of at least four per cent of the GDP. No wonder we are turning into a nation of illiterates or semi-literates wallowing in ignorance and bigotry. In short, Obama's speech carries a refreshingly conciliatory tone with the promise of a new beginning between the US and the Muslim world. While it focuses on many of the issues which have been the source of discord between the US and the Muslims, it lacks new policy initiatives on major issues to rectify the situation. In coming months and years, the Muslim world will watch closely how the Obama administration translates its pious intentions into concrete policy measures. The writer is a retired ambassador E-mail: