WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama praised on Wednesday the “broad and deepening” US partnership with Afghanistan and said he and visiting Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai had renewed their goal to defeat al Qaeda.
The two leaders met to mend fences, after months of trading barbs over alleged vote-rigging and corruption in Karzai’s government. “As we’ve seen in recent plots here in the US, al Qaeda and its extremist allies continue to plot in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a growing Taliban insurgency could mean an even larger safe haven for al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said.
“So today we are re-affirming our shared goal, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future, and we are reviewing the progress of our shared strategy and objectives.” The Obama administration is rolling out the red carpet for Karzai’s four-day visit in the US capital as senior officials from both sides mapped out what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called their “shared” future. Ties have strained as the Obama administration pressed Karzai to clamp down on corruption, after he was returned to power for a second term in last year’s fraud-tainted elections.
Obama noted on Wednesday that Karzai had made progress on corruption in his administration, but said “much more” needed to be done in terms of good governance. Both leaders appeared to have aired their own concerns in their talks, which come as the US boosts the number of US forces in Afghanistan. In a nod to the tensions, Karzai hailed the “frank, productive” White House talks on the need to protect Afghan civilians amid anger in Afghanistan at the deaths caused by US air strikes.
“When there is a civilian casualty, it is not just a political problem for me. I am ultimately accountable, just as General (Stanley) McChrystal is accountable for somebody who is not on the battlefield who got killed,” Obama said. “We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties because I don’t want civilians killed. And we are going to do everything we can to prevent that.” “I found it very happy for me to convey back to the Afghan people that I found a very supportive voice from president Obama on these accounts,” President Karzai said.
“I’m very glad to report to you that we will be setting up a team of our senior advisers to work out the exact timelines of the transfer of detention centers to the Afghan government, which I consider to be a major point of progress in our conversations.” A US military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Karzai wanted to negotiate a security agreement that would ensure a US commitment to Kabul beyond July 2011, when American forces are due to start a withdrawal.
Discussions this week have largely focused on the future of the US role in Afghanistan and what kind of legal “framework” should be drafted to define the relationship, the official told reporters. Such an agreement would cover the US-Afghan relationship over the next three to five years, he said.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.