WASHINGTON -- Acknowledging that the road ahead will be difficult, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States’ commitment to defeat Al-Qaeda and support the democratically elected governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan will not waiver.
Obama made the remarks in Washington on May 6 after a White House meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The two leaders are in town for two days of talks with administration officials to discuss their respective roles in the strategy to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat" Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Obama said that strategy, which was revealed about a month ago, reflects a "fundamental truth" that the three countries' securities are linked.
“I’m pleased that these two men -- elected leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan -- fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it," he said.
Crops To Commerce
Under Obama’s plan, the U.S., Pakistani, and Afghan governments will begin to cooperate in myriad and long neglected ways, across all levels of government.
A second day of meetings on May 7 will see the heads of the U.S. judiciary, agriculture, intelligence, and energy departments meeting with their Pakistani and Afghan counterparts to sketch out concrete action plans and timetables. Bilateral and trilateral cooperation agreements are expected to be signed.
Whether via intelligence sharing or police training, crop policies, or trade agreements, Obama said all parties agree that the goal is to prevent militants' ability to operate in either country and to improve the lives of ordinary Pakistanis and Afghans.
“Every day, we see evidence of the future that Al-Qaeda and its allies offer. It's a future filled with violence and despair," he said. "It's a future without opportunity or hope. That's not what the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan want, and it's not what they deserve. The United States has a stake in the future of these two countries. We have learned, time and again, that our security is shared.”
In Afghanistan, Obama said U.S. policy will be to help Afghanistan grow its economy, hold free and fair national elections this summer, and combat corruption.
In Pakistan, he said his administration will support democratic institutions while helping the government confront insurgents whom he called “the single greatest threat to the Pakistani state.”
“We must do more than stand against those who would destroy Pakistan. We must stand with those who want to build Pakistan," Obama said. And that is why I have asked Congress for sustained funding to build schools, and roads, and hospitals. I want the Pakistani people to understand that America is not simply against terrorism. We are on the side of their hopes and their aspirations."
New Offensive Makes Gains
The administration's new strategy for the region demands significantly more military and civilian commitments than the previous White House administration made. Obama is sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and increasing the amount of training for security forces. He has also asked Congress for an immediate $400 million to help the Pakistani government battle insurgents who in recent weeks have gained control of areas disturbingly close to the capital, Islamabad.
American officials were deeply critical of a decision by the Pakistani government last month to cede territory in the northwestern part of the country to Taliban fighters in a supposed peace deal.
Under pressure to demonstrate that he still has control of the country and its nuclear arsenal, Zardari this week ordered the military to launch an attack on militants based in the area. While he was holding talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama, Pakistani military leaders reported killing at least 35 fighters.
Praise From Clinton
Two weeks ago, in testimony before a Congressional committee, Clinton laid the blame for the increase in extremist activity at the feet of the Pakistani government, which she said "is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists."
On May 6, she praised Zardari's change of heart.
"I’m actually quite impressed with the actions that the Pakistani government is taking. I think that action was called for and action has been forthcoming," she said.
"This is a long, difficult struggle, and the leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, really had to work on significant paradigm shifts in order to see this threat as those of us on the outside perceived it. And I think that has occurred and I think that there is a resolve going forward,”
She said the first day of talks between U.S. officials and delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan had produced “very promising early signs,” and described it as “in some ways a breakthrough meeting.” She noted that several of the ministers in attendance had never before spoken face to face with each other about common concerns like border security, police training, trade agreements, and water-sharing policies.
“I’m very optimistic that this process is making a difference," she said, adding, "I’m realistic enough to know that two meetings does not necessarily turn around the many difficult and complex challenges that confront these two countries and us in our relationship to them.”
Both leaders offered Clinton their assurances that they were up to the task of meeting not just the United States’ expectations, but each other's, as well.
"I would request our brothers and sisters in Pakistan to count on us in the best possible manner that Afghanistan will go along in order to, eventually, provide a life of peace and prosperity to both countries," Karzai said.
Zardari also offered a promise, saying, "Our threat is common, and our responsibilities should be shared. I am here to assure you that we shall share this burden with you all. For no matter how long it takes and what it takes, democracies will deliver. My democracy will deliver."
He added, "The people of Pakistan stand with the people of the United States and the people of Afghanistan. We stand with our brother Karzai and the people of Afghanistan against this common threat, this menace, which I have called cancer. This is a cancer. It needs to be done away with."
The first day of the two-day summit was overshadowed by reports that a U.S. bombing strike on May 4 had killed several dozen Afghan civilians. Afghan villagers and officials put the death toll at more than 100, but the Red Cross reported a lower figure.
If Afghan officials are correct, the death toll would be the worst case of civilian casualties since the U.S. military campaign began in 2001.
During on-camera remarks on May 6, Clinton told Karzai that Washington "deeply, deeply" regrets the loss of life and promised a full investigation.
Obama said he told the Afghan leader that the United States will work with him and its international partners “to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties as we help the Afghan government combat our common enemy.”