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Obama's Nominees Pledge Counterterrorism Focus In Afghanistan, Pakistan

Richard Olson (file photo)
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama’s nominees for ambassador posts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have pledged to improve diplomatic ties and counterterrorism cooperation in the region if they are confirmed.

Richard Olson, slated to become the next U.S. envoy to Pakistan, told lawmakers on July 31 on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that getting Islamabad to crack down on the militant Haqqani network would be his central task.

“This will be a primary focus of my activities and my diplomatic engagement with the Pakistanis -- to encourage further measures against the Haqqani network, further squeezing of the Haqqani network,” he said.

Olson was testifying on the same day that the U.S. State Department released its 2011 Country Reports on Terrorism, which said Pakistan was providing "refuge" to the Haqqani network, which has targeted U.S. and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. analysts say elements in the Pakistani intelligence and military communities maintain ties with the Haqqani to hedge their bets and maintain influence in Afghanistan after U.S. troops leave the country in 2014.

Congress has recently been pressuring the Obama administration to designate the Haqqani network as a terrorist organization.

Nevertheless, Olson listed stability in Afghanistan as one of the “many shared interests” between Washington and Islamabad.

The diplomat, a 30-year-veteran of the State Department who served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and in the U.S. embassy in Kabul, said he would work to find practical ways to further that goal if confirmed.

“We also share an interest in supporting political stability and security in Afghanistan. As President Obama said on May 2, we want Pakistan to be a full partner in supporting Afghan peace and stability in a way that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, interests, and democratic institutions," he said. "Pakistani officials have told us repeatedly that more than any other nation, they have a vested interest in seeking a stable, secure Afghanistan.”

Olson would replace Cameron Munter, who is stepping down after serving less than two years on the job.

Obama’s nominee for envoy to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, is currently Washington's deputy ambassador in Kabul and was previously U.S. ambassador to Israel. He pledged to advance diplomatic efforts to promote stability in the country as Washington finishes withdrawing troops.

"The Strategic Partnership and the successful NATO summit in Chicago and the Tokyo conference sent a clear message to the Afghan people and to the region that Afghanistan will have the support of the international community and the United States in the years ahead," said Cunningham.

"If confirmed, I will build on this successful diplomatic campaign, underscoring our collective commitment to help build an Afghanistan that will contribute to the stability of the region and never again be a source of international terrorist threats to the United States."

Under the strategic partnership agreement signed by Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. troops will be able to stay in the country until at least 2024 to train Afghan troops and conduct select operations against extremists.

Cunnigham also pledged to make sure that nascent gains made by Afghan women will not be rolled back.

If confirmed, Cunningham will replace Ryan Crocker, who is leaving his post citing health reasons.

Olson and Cunningham must be approved by the Senate Committee and then by the full Senate.

with additional reporting by AP