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Pakistan, Afghanistan Back Development As Counterterror Strategy

Afghan Defense Minister Wardak called for greater resources for Afghan forces
Afghan Defense Minister Wardak called for greater resources for Afghan forces
Pakistan and Afghanistan have different views of how to combat extremism in the region, but their approaches may be growing closer.

Representatives of the two countries at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 29 said more international cooperation and a stronger emphasis on development in their countries could have positive implications for the world as a whole.

Addressing the topic of extremism alongside the Afghan defense minister, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said his government understands that improved security along the countries' porous border is "in the interests of the whole world."

Gilani, who said relations with Afghanistan have improved substantially since his government assumed office in April, said Pakistan is focusing on what he called "three Ds."

"No. 1 is dialogue. The dialogue means a political dialogue with non-militants; those who those who denounce terrorism; those who throw their arms [away]," he said. "No. 2 is development; that is a core issue. The world should understand that to fight against terrorism you have to go, you have to find the root causes of terrorism. And the root causes of terrorism are poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and non-development. These are the areas where we have to do much more. And the third "D" is deterrence."

Gilani said while meeting when he met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden just before Biden took office, he urged the new U.S. administration to speed up the process of establishing Reconstruction Opportunity Zones on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These industrial and trade zones are expected to substantially improve the economy of impoverished Pashtun tribes that reside there.

However, he called U.S. strikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets suspected of seeking safe haven in the region "counterproductive." This, he said, is because the cross-border attacks launched by unmanned drones undermine his government's policy of "isolating the tribes from the militants," and even push them closer.

'Inadequate Resources'

For his part, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told participants at the forum that progress in his country has been "interrupted by the surge of violence, especially in 2008."

Wardak conceded that the failure to provide security to the population has been exploited by the Taliban, but he added that "there was no purely military solution."

He said that the international community had devoted inadequate resources to Afghanistan because they underestimated the threats emanating from his country in 2001. He contrasted the realities of warfare in Afghanistan -- whose larger territory and mountainous terrain, he said, pose greater challenges than Iraq -- to the estimated 800,000 international and Iraqi forces used to turn the tide against Al-Qaeda and affiliated insurgents in Iraq.

Wardak also cited the need "to isolate the terrorists from the people," but said that to provide lasting security, the international community must invest in training and equipping the Afghan security forces.

"I think there is a need for a qualitative and quantitative improvement of the Afghan national security forces," Wardak said. "There will be a requirement of a temporary augmentation of international forces. But all these years I have been saying this that equipping and training the Afghan security forces is 60 to 70 times cheaper than the deployment of the large formations of international forces. It is politically less complex and it [would] the lives of our friends and allies."

Wardak said that his government supports dialogue only with those Taliban who agree to lay down their weapons, accept the supremacy of the Afghan Constitution, and are ready to participate in a peaceful political process.

Seeking Indian Involvement

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, whose country has hosted two summits between Pakistani and Afghan leaders in recent years, emphasized that Istanbul considers each of the two countries "great friends." He said that the Obama administration's appointment of veteran U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan "is a step in the right direction" because "the security situation in both countries is very much interlinked."

Holbrook is scheduled to make his first trip to his new area of specialization in the second week of February.

Babacan, however, called for an expanded robust diplomatic effort involving India, other regional states, and the international community to improve the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I think, as the international community, we should all help in a way and make sure that the relations between India and Pakistan evolve in the right direction," Babacan said. "No confrontation, but cooperation, solidarity against terrorists, against extremism, should be the key. And without making this possible, no country alone can fight...extremism. Not only the countries in the region should work together but also as an international community, we should also collaborate."

In comments to CNN on January 29, Afghan Defense Minister Wardak stressed the importance the world should place on preventing Afghanistan from once again emerging as a terrorist sanctuary.

Afghanistan, he reminded the West, had made great sacrifices by "shattering the invincibility of the Red Army" -- a debt he said could be repaid through economic development and the restoration of the country's shattered infrastructure.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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