Clinton Reaffirms U.S. Commitment To Afghanistan

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Afghanistan to encourage the country's leadership to keep up reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. In a meeting with President Hamid Karzai on Thursday, she stressed the U.S. will stay committed to the country long after U.S. troops are drawn down.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Kabul today where she met with President Hamid Karzai to discuss the war effort.

NPR's Jackie Northam is traveling with Mrs. Clinton just after a press conference by the secretary and President Karzai. I asked her what the message of that press conference was.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: There were a couple messages that came out today. And certainly Secretary Clinton is reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. And that's important now as the U.S. begins to drawdown its troops here. The last ones are expected to pull out by 2014 and then security will be handed over to the Afghans.

Clinton reassured President Karzai that the U.S. still has a strong interest in making sure Afghanistan is stable and secure. She's also reaffirming Washington's commitment to a reconciliation process. Peace negotiations have taken a real hit here recently with the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani who was Karzai's peace envoy. That killing was blamed on the Taliban. But the consensus is reconciliation can't happen without the participation of Pakistan. And that will be Secretary Clinton's next stop.

SHAPIRO: What kind of reception can Secretary Clinton expect in Pakistan given how difficult and tense the relationship has been between the two countries lately?

NORTHAM: Well, it's very hard to say. She certainly made it clear that she was going to be bringing a very tough message to the Pakistanis. During the press conference, she said she intended to push the Pakistani leadership very hard as to what they will be willing to do or not do to get rid of the insurgent safe havens on their side of the border. And that would mean militant groups like the Haqqani Network. Let's have a listen to what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HILLARY CLINTON: We must send a clear, unequivocal message to the government and the people of Pakistan that they must be part of the solution. And that means ridding their own country of terrorists who killed their own people and who cross the border to kill in Afghanistan.

NORTHAM: Ari, this was the type of statement she made a number of times during the press conference. And so, the Pakistanis will be well aware of what they're going to face when she arrives. And she'll not be alone when she gets to Islamabad. She's going to be accompanied by Retired Army General David Petraeus who now heads up the CIA and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior White House officials as well. So, it's going to be a full show of force by the U.S.

SHAPIRO: Jackie, do Secretary Clinton and other U.S. officials believe they have a partner they can work with in Pakistan given what U.S. officials have said about ties between the Pakistani intelligence agency and in certain groups like the Haqqani Network?

NORTHAM: That question has come up several times with U.S. State Department officials that we're traveling with, and they really don't answer the question clearly. What they do say is that they want to move ahead, that they want a constructive partnership with the Pakistanis in that.

But certainly, you know, after the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil, and then after the comments by Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he said that the Haqqani Network, the insurgent group, is a veritable arm of Pakistan's intelligence agency.

The relations are very strained. The Pakistanis are very much on the defensive. So, we're just going to have to wait and see whether, you know, they are willing to be a full partner, you know, in peace negotiations in trying to help end all the conflict in this region.

SHAPIRO: Any specific tangible take-homes that the U.S. is hoping for from this trip by Secretary Clinton?

NORTHAM: I think at this point is they are delivering a message. Now, she is unveiling a new strategy of sorts and it's called fight, talk and build. And the first part is obviously fighting the insurgents. And she, you know, again, the Pakistanis are very much a part of that, although they say it's everybody's business - Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.

Talk, hopefully there'll be peace negotiations. Build, try to build up the regions and cooperation. So, that's her new strategy that she'll be delivering. Take-home is still unclear. We have to get to Pakistan and it's hard to say what sort of reception...

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