How Did Obama's Announcement Play In Kabul?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Let's get some reaction now to the president's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and she joins us on the line. Hello?
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Hi. How are you, Renee?
MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. Soraya, you've been talking with Afghan officials. What are they saying about this new plan?
NELSON: Well, they're very welcoming of it. The presidential spokesman said they were particularly happy to hear that the Americans are now looking at the issue of the Taliban and al-Qaida as a regional issue, not something that's just based in Afghanistan, but that, in fact, Pakistan is having real issues with this, too, and needs to be part of the solution. And so they were very happy about that. They also were very excited about the additional trainers for Afghan police and Afghan army - I'm sorry, for Afghan soldiers because they feel that the Afghans do have to be the main source of the solution in the end, that you can't really count on the West to basically solve this problem for them.
MONTAGNE: Now, the president did announce 4,000 additional troops for Afghanistan to act as trainers. How, there in Kabul, do they want them to be used? To train military, or to train police?
NELSON: Well, the feeling is that the police need more attention, and even the American trainers will tell you that. The Afghan army is light years ahead of where the police is at this stage, especially the border police. And, of course, the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is where there's a lot of concern about insurgents and safe havens and that sort of thing. And so they would like to see more emphasis on police. But I think they welcome trainers in any event, just so that they can bring both the soldiers and the police up to the levels that they need to be to protect this country.
MONTAGNE: Now, President Obama also spoke about one of the major problems in Afghanistan: corruption. Let's listen to a short clip.
President BARACK OBAMA: We cannot turn a blind a eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior and sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people.
MONTAGNE: And that, Soraya, has not been a priority before.
NELSON: No. And it's something, certainly, that Mr. Karzai's critics are very excited about. They feel that there has been too much of a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of approach that the Americans have taken in supporting the government and not really addressing this issue. There's also certainly been great concern about Western contractors pocketing too much of the money that's been spent for - well, for reconstruction and for development here so far. And so there is a great interest in having more oversight. Having said that, Mr. Karzai recently did speak about feeling that the West was overemphasizing the corruption as a way to make excuses for why they have not done better here in Afghanistan. So it'll be interesting to see how those - how that oversight is received when it actually does fall in place here.
MONTAGNE: Soraya, thanks very much. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, speaking to us from Kabul.