Obama says Pakistan has legitimate role in Afghan reconciliation process

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK: U.S. President Barack Obama has said Pakistan has a legitimate role to play in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, from where the U.S. will pull out 33,000 troops by September next year. “We think that Pakistan has a legitimate role to play as part of the reconciliation process. I know that President Karzai in his travels to Islamabad agreed that Pakistan and Afghanistan, along with the United States, should create a core group that can discuss how we can proceed in this process,” he told Voice of America in an interview.  “Pakistan not only has a responsibility but also—I think—a deep interest in dealing with the terrorist elements that are still in their territory,” he remarked.Obama said his administration started focusing on Pakistan as part of the regional strategy two years ago and appreciated Islamabad’s overall cooperation in the anti-terror fight along the Afghan border.“You had to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of a similar problem. That border region, in which extremist elements had taken control, and were providing Al-Qaeda safe haven from which to launch attacks into Afghanistan, into Pakistan and around the world. “So we’ve sought to strengthen cooperation with Pakistan.Obviously, that has created tensions as well, but overall Pakistan has cooperated with us in our intelligence-collection efforts, in striking at high-value targets within Pakistan.”

He acknowledged that Pakistan suffered most from terrorism. “We think that no country has suffered more from terrorist attacks than Pakistan. So this is entirely in their self-interest.”The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has become more honest over time, he said, referring to recent tensions. “That raises some differences that are real.Obviously, the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear to Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it.We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively to make sure that both U.S. security interests, Pakistani security interests, and Afghan security interests converge.”President Obama also said his decision to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan does not mean the U.S. is abandoning that country.

“Keep in mind that we’re talking about 10,000 troops by the end of this year, an additional 23,000 by the end of next summer – and we’ll still have 68,000 troops there, in addition to the coalition partner troops. “So there is still going to be a substantial presence.  But what it does signal is that Afghans are slowly taking more and more responsibility,” he added.The president said his decision is consistent with what he called a phased transition process. “Already there are Afghans out there every day who are fighting the fight, Afghans who are dying on behalf of their country, and their freedom, and their dignity,” he noted.  “And what we want to make sure of is that we continue to be a good partner with that process, but also want to send a signal to the Afghan people: this is your country ultimately and you are going to have responsibilities.” In recent months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been critical of the United States. But President Obama says overall, he shares the same goals. – APP