Is Obama screwing the pooch in Pakistan?

President Barack Obama has made rooting out extremism from Pakistan a key priority, but experts from both countries warn that his team is off to a shaky start.

Japan on Friday holds a major donors meeting for Pakistan, but Islamabad has already bristled at proposed conditions in the US aid package.

US envoy Richard Holbrooke, who will take part in the Tokyo talks, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the top US military commander, last week visited Islamabad, where they faced a storm of protest over US drone attacks that have killed both wanted militants and civilians.

Pakistani analyst Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, was not charitable about the Obama team’s debut in Islamabad.

"This was probably the worst ever visit by an American team to South Asia in history," Nawaz said. "It was a complete disaster.

"If this is how you are going to win friends, I just wonder how you are going to create enemies," Nawaz told a seminar at The Jamestown Foundation, another think-tank.

Nawaz faulted Holbrooke and Mullen for publicly demanding that Pakistan’s civilian President Asif Ali Zardari rein in elements of the intelligence service believed to support extremists.

Obama has thrown his support behind a bill before Congress to pump 1.5 billion dollars annually into Pakistan for at least five years to build schools and infrastructure that can nurture democracy.

With the United States in a painful recession, the Obama administration has made clear to US taxpayers that it would set benchmarks on Pakistan’s progress in fighting extremism.

But Nawaz said such conditions made the aid politically untenable for Zardari, widely seen to be in a weak position faced with Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence service.

Ahmed Rashid, a leading Pakistani journalist and Taliban expert, said that the United States would do well to set more general parameters for aid.

He said he was "absolutely shocked" by the conditions in drafts of the US congressional aid bill to his country.

"No political government can accept a bill like this in Pakistan, even if it is on its knees — which it is, economically speaking," Rashid said.

Obama, announcing his new strategy last month, said that the United States should take a broader regional approach that encompasses both Pakistan and Afghanistan in the fight to eliminate Islamic extremism.

Leading members of the Al-Qaeda movement — including its leader Osama bin Laden — are widely believed to be holed up in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas near the Afghanistan border.

Pakistan was the premier supporter of the extremist Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but military ruler Pervez Musharraf switched sides overnight and became a key US ally after the September 11, 2011 attacks.

Marin Strmecki of the Smith Richardson Foundation warned that the United States ran the risk of telling Pakistan that "having security problems in the region is a good way to get paid to alleviate the problem."

The United States should instead signal that "we want to build a positive long-term relationship with Pakistan for its own sake" and only quietly lay out US goals for Islamabad to fight militants, Strmecki said.

Obama has also backed a bill to give duty-free access to US markets for some goods made in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Stephen P. Cohen, an expert on South Asia at the Brookings Institution, said that the United States has made excessive demands of a weak Pakistani leadership — from fighting extremists to safeguarding its nuclear program to treating women better and reforming its economy.

"We’ve asked the Pakistanis to do too much — there are limits to what a government can do that can barely stay in power," Cohen said.

"If we think that they can do everything, they will wind up doing nothing well."