I want to start by recognizing the concerns that many of you have about Afghanistan and Pakistan policy. You and the American people are right to ask questions, but I think it’s also important, as the Chairwoman alluded to in her opening statement, to recognize the significant results that our policy has already produced.
Usama bin Ladin and many of his top lieutenants are dead. The threat remains real and urgent, especially from al-Qaida’s affiliates. But the group’s senior leadership has been devastated and its ability to conduct operations greatly diminished. Many of our successes against al-Qaida would not have been possible without our presence in Afghanistan and close cooperation with Pakistan.
Now in Afghanistan, we still face a difficult fight, but coalition and Afghan forces have reversed the Taliban momentum in key areas. Afghan security forces have a long way to go, but they are taking more responsibility every day. And while the country still faces enormous challenges from poverty and corruption, our development efforts have bolstered the economy and improved lives.
You know the statistics. Ten years ago, fewer than a million students enrolled in Afghan schools, all of them boys; now more than 7 million, nearly 40 percent of them are girls. Afghans are better positioned to chart their own future.
I offer these very brief examples as a reminder that, as President Obama has said, we are meeting our commitments and we are making progress toward our goals. And we cannot let up. We should build on our momentum, not undercut our progress. Now I will be the first to admit that working with our Afghan and Pakistani partners is not always easy. But these relationships are advancing America’s national security interests, and walking away from them would undermine those interests.
With that as context, let me report I have just completed a productive visit to both countries. In Kabul and Islamabad, I emphasized our three-track strategy of fight, talk, and build, pursuing all three tracks at once, as they are mutually reinforcing. And the chance of success for all three are greatly increased by strong cooperation from the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Let me briefly discuss each track.
First, the fight. Coalition and Afghan forces have increased pressure on the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and other insurgents, including with a new operation in eastern Afghanistan launched in recent days. But our commanders on the ground are increasingly concerned, as they have been for some time, that we have to go after the safe havens across the border in Pakistan. Now, I will be quick to add that the Pakistanis also have reason to be concerned about attacks coming at them from across the border in Afghanistan.
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. We underscored to our Pakistani counterparts the urgency of the task at hand, and we had detailed and frank conversations about the concrete steps both sides need to take. I explained that trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous. No one who targets innocent civilians of any nationality should be tolerated or protected.
Now, we are not suggesting that Pakistan sacrifice its own security; quite the opposite. We respect the sacrifices that Pakistan has already made. And it’s important for Americans to be reminded, over the past decade, more than 5,000 Pakistani soldiers have been lost, and tens of thousands Pakistani citizens have been killed or injured. That’s why we are pursuing a vision of shared security that benefits us all.
The second track is talking, and here too we are taking concrete steps with our partners. So in both Kabul and Islamabad, I reaffirmed America’s strong support for an inclusive Afghan-led peace process. And we have been very clear about the necessary outcomes of any negotiation. Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al-Qaida, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities. If insurgents cannot or will not meet those redlines, they will face continued and unrelenting assault. 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.
Now, there is no doubt that the murder of former President Rabbani was a setback, but the Afghans strongly believe reconciliation is still possible and we support that as the best hope for peace and stability in the region. Pakistan has a critical role to play and a big stake in the outcome, so we look to Pakistan to encourage the Taliban and other insurgents to participate in an Afghan peace process in good faith, both through unequivocal public statements and by closing off the safe havens.
We are working with the Afghan Government to help them secure commitments from all of their neighbors to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support Afghan reconciliation. This will be a key focus when I go to Istanbul next week to meet with regional foreign ministers. For our part, the United States is working with the Afghan Government to conclude a new strategic partnership.
And let me add, in response to the Chairwoman’s question, in 2011 we had three Washington-led rounds of discussions, with the State Department leading an interagency team, including DOD, USAID, and the NSC. These discussions resulted in a text that is about 90 percent agreed to, including strong commitments on economic/social development, democratic institution-building, human rights, anti-corruption, and other important long-term reforms.
Among other things, we envision establishing an Afghanistan-United States bilateral commission and associated implementation mechanisms to help our focus remain on what needs to be done during the transition process. Ambassador Crocker and General Allen are still working through some of the security cooperation issues with President Karzai. The negotiation is ongoing, but I want to assure the Congress that although we do not expect this to take the form of a treaty or to require advice and consent of the Senate, we will consult with you on where we are in this process, and I will ensure that anyone who wishes to get a full briefing will get one, and we will very much welcome your views.
And in response to Congressman Chabot’s point, we anticipate having a transition that does include security components, not only from the United States, but also from NATO, commitments that were made at the Lisbon Summit. And again, we look forward to consulting with you on that.
And finally, the third track is building. Building what? 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. People need a realistic hope for a better life, for a job, for a chance to provide for their families. So it is critical to our broader effort that civilian assistance continue in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I thank Congressman Berman for raising that. Yet, I will also be very clear that we have had to move rapidly and deeply to strengthen oversight and improve effectiveness, and I’ll be happy to answer questions about that.
Early next week, I will be sending you a comprehensive status update on our civilian assistance detailing our plans to shift from short-term stabilization to long-term development.
Now as the transition proceeds and coalition combat forces leave Afghanistan, there need to be realistic hopes for development. So 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. I really want to underscore the point that Congressmen Berman made, which is really that we want to move from aid to trade. We cannot do that if we don’t get Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation, which will lower tariffs on Pakistani and Afghan products, and the Enterprise Fund, which will not require taxpayer dollars. This is what we did in Central and Eastern Europe, and it was a big help in convincing people that the free market was the way to go.
And finally, we are pursuing a broader, long-term vision for regional economic integration that we call the New Silk Road. It’s not just an economic plan. It talks about how we can get these countries that have so many problems with each other to begin cooperating. And to that end, I’m very pleased by the progress that both India and Pakistan are making on the commercial front and the progress in implementing the transit trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
So those are our three tracks – fight, talk, and build – and we’re on all of them simultaneously. We believe this is the best place that we can be in moving forward, and I look forward to answering your questions.