By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 6, 2009 - President Barack Obama said today he is encouraged by the spirit of cooperation between the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan as the two nations confront extremists. Obama spoke at the White House at the end of meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.
Obama said the strategy unveiled last month after long consultations with allies in the region calls for denying extremists the space needed to threaten the Afghan, Pakistani or American people. "We must also advance security and opportunity so that Pakistanis and Afghans can pursue the promise of a better life," the president said.
The strategy in the region reflects a basic truth that the security of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States are linked, and the events of the past month reinforce that truth, Obama said. Al-Qaida and the Taliban have killed many people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they continue to challenge the democratically elected governments of the region.
"Meanwhile, al-Qaida plots against the American people and people around the world from their safe haven along the border," Obama said.
The president said Karzai and Zardari fully appreciate the threat and have reaffirmed their commitments to overcoming it. He said the two leaders have pledged to work with each other and the United States. The president called the pledges "unprecedented" and said they will benefit all people.
The White House meeting was the second among the three nations and is designed to coordinate efforts across agencies and international borders. Pakistani and Afghan officials will meet with their U.S. counterparts as part of the process. Obama said the meetings will be held regularly.
"There is much to be done," the president said. "Along the border where insurgents often move freely, we must work together with a renewed sense of partnership to share intelligence and to coordinate our efforts to isolate, target and take out our common enemy."
But it is not just force that will win the day in the region, the president said.
"We must meet extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity," Obama said. The administration will continue to work with Congress to create opportunity zones to spark development in the region. The president said he is pleased with a landmark trade agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan that will open both countries to more commerce.
The challenges in both countries are different. "In Afghanistan, we must help grow the economy while developing alternatives to the drug trade by tapping the resilience and the ingenuity of the Afghan people," Obama said. He also said the United States will work with officials to eliminate corruption.
"I also made it clear that the United States will work with our Afghan and international partners to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties as we help the Afghan government combat our common enemy," he said.
In Pakistan, the United States must help to shore up democratic institutions "while helping the government confront the insurgents who are the single greatest threat to the Pakistani state," Obama said.
America also must help the Pakistanis build and develop their own economy and institutions. "That is why I've asked Congress for sustained funding to build schools and roads and hospitals," he said. "I want the Pakistani people to understand that America is not simply against terrorism. We are on the side of their hopes and their aspirations, because we know that the future of Pakistan must be determined by the talent, innovation and intelligence of its people."
While the United States is providing funding, it also is sending its greatest treasure – the young men and women of the armed forces and civilian experts. The president reiterated the decision to send 21,000 more servicemembers to Afghanistan. Obama said the challenges will be tough and that there will be more violence and some setbacks, but the United States is in the fight for the long haul.
"The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al-Qaida, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan," he said. "That commitment will not waver. And that support will be sustained."
Events around the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan show what life would be like under the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies. "It's a future filled with violence and despair," Obama said. "It's a future without opportunity or hope. That's not what the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan want, and it's not what they deserve."
Obama said it's in the interest of all three nations to work together. "We have learned time and again that our security is shared," he said. "It is a lesson that we learned most painfully on 9/11. And it is a lesson that we will not forget."
No matter the challenges, "we will not be deterred," Obama said. "And the aspirations of all our people – for security, for opportunity and for justice – are far more powerful than any enemy."