U.S.-Pakistani Talks Focus on Long-Term Partnership

WASHINGTON– The United States is committed to a long-term strategic…

WASHINGTON– The United States is committed to a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan that’s critical to the success of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy, senior U.S. leaders assured their Pakistani counterparts during a recent consultative session here.

The United States will remain a stabilizing force in the region long after the conflict ends,
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, and others said.

Flournoy recognized actions Pakistan has taken to deal with extremists within its border, and promised continued U.S. support, David Sedney, deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, told reporters today.

“America will remain a staunch supporter of Pakistani security and prosperity long after the guns fall silent,” Sedney said Flourney told the Pakistani delegation led by the Pakistani defense secretary, retired Lt. Gen. Syed Athar Ali.

The 18th Defense Consultative Group session, the first since 2006, occurred just a week after Obama’s announcement regarding Afghanistan only coincidentally, Sedney said.

But it provided a valuable forum to discuss Pakistan’s role in the strategy’s success, he said, and to clear up Pakistani concerns about the drawdown plan in Afghanistan.

The U.S. delegation emphasized that the United States has no plan to abandon Afghanistan, as it did after Soviet forces withdrew there in 1989.

Flourney and her fellow delegates made clear that the July 2011 date for troop drawdowns to begin is “not an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan,” Sedney said, but rather, “a transition point.”

The Pakistanis had a lot of questions about this issue, but “left understanding that the commitment of the United States in Afghanistan is for the long term,” he said.

Meanwhile, the delegates reaffirmed the importance of Pakistan in accomplishing U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, and the United States’ interest in bolstering a long-term U.S.-Pakistani strategic partnership.

America will remain a staunch supporter of Pakistani security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent,” Sedney said the delegates told the Pakistanis.

Initially, the U.S.-Pakistani partnership will focus primarily on supporting Pakistan’s internal struggle against extremists, Sedney said. This includes boosting Pakistan’s counterterrorism and counterinsurgency capabilities, and ultimately, providing more combined training opportunities.

But over the longer term, the United States also is committed to helping Pakistan increase development and security, while strengthening its democratic institutions, he said. This effort will transcend current operations, helping Pakistan become a major stabilizing force in the region.

“This is a comprehensive effort,” Sedney said. “This is not just a military-focused effort, to focus on one military task, and then the relationship stops….It is a whole-of-government approach that is aimed at addressing the immediate [threats], but also looking forward to a longer, more strategic [partnership].”

The next delegation-level meeting to assess progress is to be held in the new year in Islamabad.

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