Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Thursday to work closely with Afghanistan and Pakistan as a team to root out extremism within their borders.
Clinton met this week with Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin D. Spanta, who were in Washington leading delegations for a strategic review of U.S. policy to stabilize Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Clinton hailed the three days of talks as “in-depth, very specific, open, forthright and, I believe, extremely useful.” “If we had met with our Pakistani friends, if we had met with our friends from Afghanistan, that would have been important. But what makes these last three days especially meaningful is that they were trilateral,” she said. “We have all been working together.” Clinton said the three ministers agreed to meet again in the coming months as part of a regular trilateral dialogue. In addition to holding separate meetings with the United States, the Afghan and Pakistani teams met together with a U.S. review team on several occasions, a departure from the past several years of animosity between the two countries. The effort is being led by South Asian security expert Bruce Reidel and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy. President Obama and Clinton tapped Holbrooke as special representative for the two countries, a signal of how the new administration considers Afghanistan and Pakistan intertwined in any solution to the war in Afghanistan and the terrorist threat along their shared border. Last week, Obama announced he is sending another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight a strengthening insurgency, which Obama has called the “central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.”
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The troops will be sent to southern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan and is a haven for Taliban insurgents. Pakistani officials have expressed concern the deployment will push the Taliban across the border into Pakistan and further destabilize their country. The country’s defense minister said on Thursday his country is fighting for survival against the Taliban, but expressed optimism the tide is turning in the government’s favor. “Achieving our goals in the coming years will not be quick or easy,” Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak said at a press conference in Washington. Despite the additional troops from the United States and NATO, Wardak said the outcome will depend on the Afghan army. The Obama administration is conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region who also took part in some of the talks this week. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the original mission in Afghanistan was “too broad” and needs to be more “realistic and focused” for the United States to succeed. Afghanistan’s Spanta called Obama’s decision to review U.S.-Afghanistan policy “a clear sign of his determination to see Afghanistan’s success as we move forward in consolidating our past achievements and tackling challenges at this time.” Pakistan’s Qureshi earlier this week cited a “convergence of interests” between Washington and Islamabad and a “willingness to work together.” “I see a lot of hope in the new administration, the new leadership, and Pakistan is willing to work with the American administration to fight extremism and terrorism,” he said. “We are determined to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Pakistan is engaged in its own effort against Taliban militants in its Northwest Frontier Province. The militants, who effectively control the country’s Swat Valley, extended a cease-fire Tuesday as part of an agreement with the government that the United States and NATO warn will risk granting a safe haven to extremists near the Afghan border. The central government has long exerted little control in the area, but it launched an intense military offensive in late July to flush out militants. As retaliation for the military presence, the Taliban carried out a series of deadly bombings, beheadings and kidnappings and said the attacks will continue until the troops pull out. On Tuesday, the Taliban said it is indefinitely extending a cease-fire Taliban leaders declared eight days ago after signing a controversial deal with the government to impose Islamic law, or Sharia, in the region.