By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 7, 2009 - Providing better lives for future generations was a theme that ran through all the discussions yesterday as the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan met with President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday, a senior administration official said. "The idea of doing things for the young people came up time and time again -- and with some emotion, I might add, on [the part of] some of the participants," National Security Advisor James L. Jones Jr. said. "This is about the future of two new, young democracies, and within those democracies we are talking, really, about the future of the next generation."
Obama, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari discussed a "whole-of-government" approach to solving the extremist threat the three nations share, Jones said, noting that in addition to an increased U.S. troop commitment, the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan relies on economic and governance aid.
Jones said discussions also included the need for Afghanistan's upcoming elections to be free and fair while the fledgling democracy works to institute judicial reform, establish rule of law and eliminate corruption. "[Obama] encouraged [Karzai] to do whatever he could to stamp out corruption wherever he found it -- or the perception of corruption -- and asked that we see concrete results in that regard," Jones said.
Obama also emphasized that Afghanistan should continue to develop civil liberties and human rights.
"The Afghan president responded that one of the great pleasures of his administration was seeing the rise in education and the number of Afghan students participating in higher education," Jones said. He added that Karzai told Obama that in 2002, only 4,000 men were attended college in Afghanistan, compared to 75,000 Afghan men and women who attend college today.
Karzai told Obama that he completely supports the new U.S. strategy, Jones said, and asked for more focused assistance not only on military training, but also on civilian training for young people.
Obama told Karzai the United States is pleased by the improvement in Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan, the national security advisor said. "It's obvious that the two presidents get along well, and it's obvious that both governments ... have pledged to work together ... across a wide range of potential areas of cooperation, to include security measures, but also economic measures and the like," Jones said.
Turning to the Pakistan, Jones said Obama told Zardari that the United States not only wants to help Pakistan militarily, but also hopes to "institutionalize democracy and make progress, recognizing that these are difficult times and the threat of extremists to Pakistan requires concerted action."
That action must be prompt and multifaceted, the national security advisor noted. "The president pledged to do what we can as quickly as possible to help the Pakistani government, and said this type of aid would not just be restricted to military," he said. The United States also will provide help with health and education, institution-building, advisors and whatever the Pakistanis need to resist the extremist threat, he added.
The president also emphasized to Zardari that the extremists are a regional problem, and that solutions must also be regional.
"As you know," Jones said, "the 'Af-Pak' strategy review emphasized the fact that we have several countries, but we have one theater. And this is the way we're looking at it. And it's important to occasionally remind ourselves that this is a common struggle, and we're approaching it that way."
The central goal is to ensure all parties understand that the struggle requires a united front, Jones said. Zardari affirmed Pakistan's commitment to work within this regional context to preserve democracy in Pakistan and to do more economically for the people.
"He spoke of building schools and hospitals," Jones said. "But underlying all of his remarks was a pledge to meet the threat and to be successful."
Zardari assured Obama that Pakistan is properly focused on the threat. Pakistan is thankful for U.S. assistance, and his government looks forward to working with America in the weeks and months ahead, Jones said.
"Miracles will not happen, so this won't happen quickly, but with a common focus, we can make strides, hopefully in the near future," Jones said. He described the meeting of the three presidents as "very warm."
"They have embraced common themes, and they intend to work together," he said. "I think it was a very good start."