Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered remarks on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Asia Society in New York on February 18. Secretary Clinton launched the Asia Society's series of Richard C. Holbrooke Memorial Addresses. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, who served most recently as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, served previously as Chairman of the Asia Society.
Secretary Clinton said, "We've made progress, but the tribal areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain the epicenter of violent extremism that threatens Americans and peace-loving people everywhere.
"Here in New York, Richard's hometown, we need no reminder of the stakes. Nearly 10 years ago, al-Qaida launched a terrorist attack planned and prepared in the safe haven of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. And it took, tragically, the lives of thousands not only of our fellow citizens, but individuals from across the world.
"Since then, al-Qaida and its followers have killed innocent people and encouraged the killing, whether it was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Madrid, London, Bali, or Istanbul. These attacks have served only to steel our resolve. As President Obama said at West Point, we did not ask for this fight, but we will surely finish it.
"Since that terrible day in 2001, two successive administrations from different points on the political spectrum have made an enormous commitment of American lives and treasure to pursue the terrorists who attacked us and those who harbor them. And after all that, many Americans understandably want to know how we plan to achieve the goals we have set forth.
"For their part, people in the region -- not just in Kabul or Islamabad, but in Beijing and Moscow, Delhi and Tehran -- wonder about America's long-term intentions and objectives. They want to know if we will walk away again, as we did in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.
"Today, I want to answer some of those questions and talk in more detail about a new phase of our diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan. I will be clear right at the start about a few key elements: our adversary, our goal, and our strategy.
"First, our adversary. Despite heavy losses, the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 retain dangerous capabilities. They continue to plot large-scale, catastrophic international attacks and to support and inspire regional affiliates. The United States and our allies remain their principal targets. Before 2001, al-Qaida was protected in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Al-Qaida and the Taliban, along with various associated groups, still maintain an alliance, based largely in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Taliban continue to wage a brutal insurgency against the government in Kabul in an effort to regain control of the country. The Taliban and al-Qaida are distinct groups with distinct aims, but they are both our adversaries and part of a syndicate of terror that must be broken.
"After he took office, President Obama launched a thorough review of our policy and set out a clear goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, and prevent it from threatening America and our allies in the future. Al-Qaida cannot be allowed to maintain its safe haven, protected by the Taliban, and to continue plotting attacks while destabilizing nations that have known far too much war. From the Tigris to the Indus, the region will never live up to its full potential until it is free of al-Qaida and its creed of violence and hatred. That is an aspiration that should unite every nation.
"In pursuit of this goal, we are following a strategy with three mutually reinforcing tracks -- three surges, if you will: a military offensive against al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban insurgents; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments, economies, and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to undercut the pull of the insurgency; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region.
"The first two surges set the table for the success of the third, which aims to support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al-Qaida and reconcile those who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution with an increasingly stable Afghan Government. That would leave al-Qaida alone and on the run.
"In 2001, after 9/11, I would remind us all, the Taliban chose to defy the international community and protect al-Qaida. That was the wrong choice, and they have paid a heavy price. Today, the escalating pressure of our military campaign is sharpening a similar decision for the Taliban: Break ties with al-Qaida, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution, and you can rejoin Afghan society; refuse and you will continue to face the consequences of being tied to al-Qaida as an enemy of the international community.
"They cannot wait us out. They cannot defeat us. And they cannot escape this choice.
"All three surges are part of the vision for transition in Afghanistan that President Obama reaffirmed in his December policy review and that NATO endorsed in Lisbon at the most recent summit. Ultimately, Afghans must take responsibility for their own future -- for providing security, for strengthening governance, and for reaching a political solution to the conflict.
"That transition will be formally launched next month, with troop reductions starting in July and continuing based on conditions on the ground. It will be completed by the end of 2014. As transition proceeds and Afghan leadership strengthens across the country, a process of political reconciliation will become increasingly viable.
"In turn, successful reconciliation will reduce the threat to the Afghan Government, making transition more sustainable. Crucially, the enduring commitment of the United States, our allies, and our partners will continue to support the stability of the Afghan Government and the durability of a responsible political settlement. That is the vision of transition -- one that is shared by the Afghan Government -- that we are pursuing."
Secretary Clinton continued, "...We have also expanded our civilian efforts in Pakistan, including through the Kerry-Lugar-Berman assistance program, which is funding projects to address Pakistan's urgent energy and economic needs.
"After the devastating floods, we stepped up with aid and relief, and our Strategic Dialogue is building habits of cooperation between our governments at every level. Now, of course, there are still significant challenges to overcome in our relationship. Distrust lingers on both sides. And we need to work together carefully to prevent misunderstandings and disagreements from derailing the progress we have made in the past two years.
"So in both nations, the decision to deploy additional civilian resources is paying dividends, even as we remain determined to work smarter and better at how we deploy these resources.
"The budget that President Obama announced on Monday provides the resources our diplomats and development experts need to be effective partners to the military to get the job done. Retreating from the civilian side of the mission -- as some funding proposals currently before Congress would do -- would be a grave mistake.
"Now, I certainly appreciate the tight budget environment we find ourselves in. But the fact is that these civilian operations are crucial to our national security.
"Consider the long-term price we have paid as a result of disengaging from Afghanistan after 1989. As Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee just yesterday, we cannot afford to make that mistake again. Or consider Iraq, where the transition to a civilian-led mission is helping the Pentagon save $45 billion, and the State Department and USAID require an increase of only $4 billion to make sure that we are robustly engaged with the government and people of Iraq. That is a good deal by any standard. So we are working with Congress to ensure that the civilian surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan receives the support it requires now and in years to come."
The Secretary concluded, "...Leaders in both nations will have to decide what kind of future they want for their children and grandchildren to inherit.
"What that future looks like will depend, to no small degree, on the success of the political and diplomatic process I have described today. So long as leaders in Kabul and Islamabad eye each other with distrust, so long as the Taliban have safe havens from which to wage war, so long as al-Qaida operates anywhere in the region, the prospects for progress are slim.
"Last month in Doha -- actually, now two months ago, in December -- just before the protests began in Tunisia and Egypt, I warned that the region's foundations were sinking into the sand. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflict is blasting the foundations apart, brick by brick. Reconciliation and reform offer another way.
"South Asia is home to nearly 1.5 billion people. They are talented and hard-working, rich in culture, and blessed with entrepreneurial spirit. If the countries of the region can move beyond their historic conflicts and cooperate to seize the opportunities of the 21st century, there are no limits as to what they can achieve.
"Our friend Richard Holbrooke believed a better future is possible for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, and the wider region. He once observed, and I quote, 'In every war of this sort, there is always a window for people who want to come in from the cold... If they are willing to accept the red lines and come in... there has to be a place for them.'
"Those were his words. And that is the policy of the United States. It may not produce peace tomorrow or the next day, but it does offer our best chance. And it offers especially the best chance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, who so richly deserve a different future. The United States will be there as a partner to help them achieve that, if that is the path they choose."
Read the Secretary's full remarks here.