By Jim Kouri
The United States has made tremendous progress in Afghanistan, but the work that remains to be done requires cooperation from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, according to Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.
Osama bin Laden and many top al-Qaeda terrorists are dead, Clinton said. The terror group has been devastated, she added, and its ability to conduct operations is greatly diminished.
“Many of our successes against al-Qaeda would not have been possible without our presence in Afghanistan and close cooperation with Pakistan,” she said.
Clinton just returned from visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA Director David H. Petraeus accompanied her, said Garamone.
The coalition in Afghanistan still faces a difficult fight, but the surge in coalition troops and the plus-up in Afghan security forces has wrested momentum away from the Taliban, Garamone added.
Afghan forces are assuming more responsibility each day, Clinton told lawmakers, noting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will soon announce the next group of areas in the country where Afghan forces will assume complete security responsibility.
The Afghans undoubtedly have made progress, claimed Secretary Clinton.
“Ten years ago, fewer than a million students enrolled in Afghan schools — all of them boys,” she said. “Now, more than 7 million [attend school]. Nearly 40 percent of them are girls. Afghans are better positioned to chart their own future.”
The United States cannot let up in the region, Clinton said. “We should build on our momentum, not undercut our progress,” she told the House panel.
During her talks with Afghan and Pakistani leaders, Clinton claimed that she emphasized America’s three-track strategy of “fight, talk and build.”
“The chance of success for all three [is] greatly increased by strong cooperation from the Afghan and Pakistani governments,” she said.
Coalition and Afghan forces have increased pressure on the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and other insurgents, Clinton said.
“But our commanders on the ground are increasingly concerned … that we have to go after the safe havens across the border in Pakistan,” she said. “So in Islamabad last week, General Dempsey, Director Petraeus and I delivered a single, unified message: Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership must join us in squeezing the Haqqani network from both sides of the border and in closing safe havens.”
The three underscored to the Pakistanis how urgent this is, and “we had detailed and frank conversations about the concrete steps both sides need to take,” Clinton said.
In the second track, the United States is encouraging an Afghan-led peace process, Clinton said. She reiterated that insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al-Qaeda and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan to be accepted back into Afghan society.
“If insurgents cannot or will not meet those redlines, they will face continued and unrelenting assault,” she said. “And I want to stress, as I did in Kabul, that the hard-won rights of women and all Afghans cannot be rolled back, and the growth of civil society must be not be quashed.”
Pakistan has a big stake in reconciliation in Afghanistan, Clinton said, and the United States expects Pakistan to encourage the Taliban and other insurgents to participate in an Afghan peace process in good faith through unequivocal public statements and by closing off the safe havens.
The third track, Clinton said, is building capacity and opportunity in Afghanistan, Pakistan and across the region.
“Now, this is part of a clear-eyed strategy rooted in a lesson we have learned over and over again around the world — lasting stability and security go hand in hand with greater economic opportunity,” she said.
The economic aspects of this track, Clinton said, are crucial for continued progress in security and reconciliation.
“Now, as the transition proceeds and coalition combat forces leave Afghanistan, there need to be realistic hopes for development,” she said. “We are working to achieve greater agricultural productivity, greater exploitation in a way that benefits the Afghanistan people of natural resources, increasing exports and strengthening the financial sector.”
America wants to move from “aid to trade,” the secretary of state said. Therefore, she added, U.S. lawmakers are being asked to pass legislation that will lower tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan products, and the Enterprise Fund, which will not require taxpayer dollars.