Clinton, Karzai Reassure on Partnership, Clarify Steps Ahead

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai provided more details on the road ahead in Afghanistan and the future of U.S.-Afghan relations during a May 13 public event at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

For Immediate Release, May 13, 2010

(Washington) -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai provided more details on the road ahead in Afghanistan and the future of U.S.-Afghan relations during a May 13 public event at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Clinton and Karzai sat down for a conversation with USIP’s William Taylor about the current effort in Afghanistan, and concerns about the strength of the U.S.-Afghan relationship. After welcoming the two distinguished guests to a packed room and global audience watching via webcast, Taylor opened the conversation by asking what are the next steps following Karzai’s four-day visit to Washington, D.C.

Karzai called the trip a success in setting the right tone and objectives. He said the next step would be the Peace Jirga, which starts on May 29, when Afghans will discuss how to bring the Taliban back into society.

He stated that the jirga would include at least 20 percent women. For more on the role of Afghan women in politics and conflict and the upcoming Peace Jirga, see the recent Peace Brief, “The Afghan Peace Jirga: Ensuring that Women are at the Peace Table,” by former USIP Fellow Palwasha Hassan.

Next, Karzai said, the Afghan government would present its future plans to the world at the Kabul Conference in July, when it would also seek international support. Then, in September, the Afghan president said, the country would hold parliamentary elections.

Secretary Clinton agreed that these are important milestones, adding that the work to make sure they succeed had already begun.

Taylor and USIP’s Alex Thier, director of the Institute’s Afghanistan and Pakistan programs, detail what’s at stake with these upcoming events in a new Peace Brief, “The Road to Successful Transition in Afghanistan: From Here to the December 2010 Review.”

“There are a critical series of steps in the coming year that will require this vision of renewed partnership to be translated into real changes on the ground. More accountable Afghan governance and more effective U.S. assistance are high among these priorities,” Thier observed after the event.

Concerns about the strength of the U.S.-Afghan partnership have dominated media headlines in recent weeks. Taylor asked whether there is stress between the two capitals, and how the possibility of a U.S. military drawdown in July 2011 affected an “enduring partnership.”

Clinton clarified that the July 2011 goal is conditions-based, and “another date to aim for.” The partnership will last long beyond the withdrawal, “as we are committed to the same strategy,” she said.

Karzai concurred that the U.S. and Afghanistan were strong partners in fighting the shared enemy of terrorism.

“We know that the U.S. will not abandon the cause in July 2011,” he said.

Another topic of major debate and discussion is whether – and how – to reintegrate Taliban fighters into society, and whether the Afghan government could reconcile with such insurgents.

In Taylor’s question about the prospects of reconciliation, he noted that the U.S. and Afghanistan had begun to follow the steps outlined in the USIP Special Report by former USIP fellow Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, “Thwarting Afghanistan’s Insurgency: A Pragmatic Approach toward Peace and Reconciliation.”

Where did Afghanistan and the U.S. see this process going, and for what end? What is the end state of reintegration?, Taylor asked.

Karzai said reintegration would bring back home the thousands of Taliban soldiers who “don’t hate the U.S.” He also offered the distinction between reconciliation and reintegration, saying reconciliation would involve Afghanistan’s neighbors, was more political in nature and was something for the future.

Clinton agreed, saying there isn’t a military solution to Afghanistan, but there must be also be a political track. Reintegration, she said, would be the first step on that political track to see in the future if reconciliation would be possible.

Reintegration will require those people to renounce violence, cut ties to extremist groups, like al-Qaeda, and, on a personal note, she said, they must respect the rights of women.

Karzai and Clinton also provided more information on the next counterinsurgency operation in Kandahar, seeking to disabuse reports that this would be a major military show of force.

“Kandahar isn’t Marjah,” Clinton told the audience, referring to the small village where U.S. forces recently launched a major military offensive. While the Taliban won’t be taking over Kandahar, she said, they had a “chilling effect” on this important city.

“We will use different tools,” she said, underscoring that in counterinsurgency, the goal is to win over the confidence of the people. She praised Karzai’s upcoming visit to that city.

“Both President Karzai and Secretary Clinton emphasized that the effort in Kandahar will not be like the one in Marjah – no big invasion, no massed troop formations. Rather, it will be a political-military effort to protect the citizens of Kandahar from the violence now being visited on them by the Taliban and convincing the citizens that the government of Afghanistan can and will protect and serve them,” Taylor remarked after the event.

Thier also observed, “The event at USIP was clearly the culmination of an important bridge-building exercise between two partners who need each other. President Karzai’s emphasis on the need to begin a gradual, but definite transition from reliance on American military and foreign assistance sends an important message to both the Afghan and American publics that they will increasingly shoulder the burden of their future – but with continued U.S. support.”

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May 13, 2010