WASHINGTON: The US pledged on Tuesday not to abandon Afghanistan as the two countries began toplevel talks after weeks of public spats between the White House and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The discussions, which include top diplomatic, defence, military and intelligence officials on both sides, aim to present a united front despite the acrimony involving Karzai’s string of anti-Western comments and the sharp US response. In the first public session of the talks held in an elegant State Department reception room, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington had a long-term commitment to Kabul and that the two sides could disagree without rupturing ties.
“As we look toward a responsible, orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people,” Clinton said, alluding to US plans to begin pulling out some troops by July 2011. That goal has always seemed ambitious given the widening Taliban insurgency more than eight years after US forces invaded following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Afghan officials have said they expected ‘frank’ exchanges with President Barack Obama during a meeting on Wednesday when President Karzai is likely to press him on civilian casualties that have undermined the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan.
While there will be public handshakes and smiles in the Rose Garden, Obama is expected to deliver his own firm message that to sustain US support, Karzai must work harder to build up government capacity and deal with pervasive corruption. Anticipating the US pressure, Karzai said his government would do its part. “Afghanistan will continue to build its institutions to preserve its progress and to walk towards the future with steady, strong steps,” Karzai said.
“We will be having disagreements on issues from time to time. But that is the sign of a mature relationship, the sign of a steady relationship,” he added. President Karzai promised that his government would assume its responsibilities in developing Afghanistan so that his wartorn country ‘is no longer a burden on your shoulders’.“We will not forget the contribution that you have made. Afghanistan is known around the world for being a country that remembers a friend,” he said.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 12th, 2010.