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Obama acknowledges Pakistan's role on Afghan peace

12 January, 2013

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama on Friday acknowledged Pakistan's role towards Afghan peace and underscored that addressing extremism in Pak-Afghan border region would require political and diplomatic cooperation between the two neighbors.

Obama told a White House Press Conference after an extensive meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Washington and Kabul are committed to political reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

"Today we agreed that this process should be advanced by opening of a Taliban office to facilitate talks", he stated after talks, which also covered scope of US-Afghanistan cooperation beyond 2014, when the US-led Afghan war officially ends.

He stated if some US forces stay in Afghanistan beyond, their mission and role would be to train the Afghan forces and have targeted actions against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

Obama particularly noted that the Afghan reconciliation would require constructive support from Islamabad and welcomed the recent steps toward that end.

"Reconciliation also requires constructive support from across the region including Pakistan. We welcome recent steps that have been taken in that regard. We look for more tangible steps because a stable and secure Afghanistan is in the interests of not only of the Afghan people and the United States but entire region".

Questioned about the US future approach to addressing militant sanctuaries on the Pakistani side of the border, safe havens, Obama stressed that "Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan all have an interest in reducing the threat of extremism in some of the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan".

"That is going to require more than simply military actions. That is really going to require political and diplomatic work between Afghanistan and Pakistan".

The United States obviously will have an interest in facilitating cooperation between the two sovereign neighboring countries,Obama added.

"As President Karzai has indicated it is very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan don't come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments in both capitals.

"I think we are starting to see a greater awareness on that on part of the Pakistani government".

Obama also made it clear that he contemplated leaving relatively few troops in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, saying that the mission will be focused on advising and supporting Afghan troops and targeting the remnants of al Qaeda.

"That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint we've had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan," Obama said, standing next to Karzai at a joint news conference at the White House.

Karzai professed to be comfortable with that, saying it was up to the United States to decide the size of a residual force. "Numbers are not going to make a difference in the situation in Afghanistan," he said, noting that it was the nature of the broader relationship that mattered.

Addressing a major sticking point between the countries, Karzai said the United States had agreed to turn over control of the prisons that house terrorism suspects to Afghan control. That would happen, he said, "soon after" he returned to Kabul.

Obama said that in order to leave any troops behind, the United States would require guarantees of legal immunity for its soldiers a demand that the administration failed to obtain from Iraq, leading Obama to withdraw all remaining American troops from that country in 2011.

Karzai, citing the agreement to transfer detention centers and the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghan villages, said he would push for such legal immunity.

"With those issues resolved, as we did today, I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for US troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised."

In the joint statement released before the news conference, Obama and Karzai extolled the progress made by the Afghan security forces, noting that Afghan troops now take the lead in providing security in 80 percent of the country a number that will rise to 90 percent by spring, when American and NATO troops are scheduled to move to a purely advisory role.

At that time, the statement said, American soldiers will pull out of patrols in villages, a measure that Karzai had sought.

Both leaders declined to be drawn into a discussion of the specific number of troops who would be involved in either the coming drawdown or in the residual force that would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Obama said he would make decisions in the coming months based on the recommendations of his military commanders.

Karzai came to Friday's meeting with far different expectations, according to Afghan officials. Although he has been careful not to discuss specific troop numbers in public, Karzai appears to be counting on a substantial residual American force perhaps as many as 15,000 troops, whose mission would be to advise Afghan security forces in their fight against the Taliban insurgency and carry out raids against al Qaeda.

And he is hoping the United States will supply the Afghan Army with the latest military hardware, including tanks and fighter planes.

These very different expectations, analysts said, could reignite the tensions in a relationship between Obama and Karzai that has been notoriously fraught over issues like corruption, civilian casualties and threats to Afghan sovereignty.


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