'We Face a Common Threat': White House to Push Afghanistan and Pakistan to Fight Extremists

In trilateral meetings tomorrow, President Obama will pressure both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to work more intensely and cooperatively to fight al Qaeda and other extremists, administration sources say. "The core principle of this meeting is the centrality of Pakistan and Afghanistan to our own national security," a senior administration official says. "We face a common threat." After Pakistan attempted to enter into a deal with Taliban leaders in April, ceding them the Swat Valley, the Obama administration expressed grave concerns about the stability of Pakistan, a country with nuclear arms. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pakistan "is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists." "Look at why this is happening," Clinton said in April, testifying before Congress. "If you talk to people in Pakistan, especially in the ungoverned territories, which are increasing in number, they don't believe the state has a judiciary system that works. It's corrupt. It doesn't extend its power into the countryside." "Swat was a real wake-up call to a lot of people in Pakistan," a senior administration official says. "We understood that and we reflected that. ... We said what we said, and they did what they did." That deal, of course, fell through. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke testified before the Senate today that last night Zardari said his army would expand its efforts to fight the encroaching Taliban -- including sending troops into the Taliban-controlled Swat area. "He said to me last night, 'The army is going back in as we speak,'" Holbrooke said. "We'll see how this goes." The U.S. is working with Afghans on building up and training their troops. In Pakistan, administration sources say, the issue is more one of Gen. Petraeus teaching the Pakistani military how to deal with a counterinsurgency. A senior military official says Pakistan's military is largely built up for a regional conflict with India. Until the last few months, their frontier corps was underequipped and undermanned. The U.S. will provide Pakistan with $400 million for counterinsurgency training and support, and equipment for counterinsurgency measures such as night vision goggles, helicopter support and maintenance. The leader of Pakistan says that's not enough. "I need drones to be part of my arsenal," Zardari told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tuesday. "I need that facility. I need that equipment. I need that to be my police arrangement. I need to own those." Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Karzai spoke of a "higher moral platform" as the surest way to defeat terrorism. "This war against terrorism will succeed only if we fight it from a higher platform of morality. Money can't buy you love, as you say it in America, no matter how much it is. And force won't buy you obedience, no matter how much it is ... We must prove that we are better than the guys that are fighting us and that we have a higher moral standard." Other issues will be addressed in these two-day trilateral talks as well, including corruption, border posts, water management, food security, job creation, trade ties, building police forces, preparing relief efforts for the future refugees that may soon be displaced as the U.S. intensifies military operations, and addressing their problems with a "whole of government" approach so matters aren't just handled militarily. Tomorrow and Thursday's meetings won't just bring just the three presidents working together. The intelligence chiefs from both countries will meet with CIA director Leon Panetta at Langley; the ministers of interior will meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director Robert Mueller; the finance ministers will meet with deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew (Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner being a bit busy with the bank stress tests, among other crises); the agriculture ministers will meet with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak. In many cases these officials -- say, the Afghan and Pakistani agriculture ministers -- have never met one another, so these trilateral talks are all new. "Success in one country leads to success in another," says a senior administration official. The meetings are unprecedented for the U.S. dealing with this region, the official says, adding that President Bush hosted a dinner for Karzai and former Pakistan President Musharraf, but it was "famously a dinner that led to nothing." Some Democrats have been expressing concerns about the renewed commitment, including 21,000 new troops, to Afghanistan. At the House Foreign Affairs Committee today, Holbrooke pushed back on any notion that the war there is another Vietnam. "While there are obvious structural similarities between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam ... the core difference is, is that the Vietnam and the north Vietnamese army never posed a direct threat to the American homeland," Holbrooke said. "And the people who are in this area who we are fighting either pose a direct threat, having committed 9/11  having done Mumbai, having killed (Benazir) Bhutto, and they have publicly said they are going to do more of the same. That is: al Qaeda of course and their allies the Taliban."     Wednesday's meetings will start at the State Department, where Secretary Clinton will meet with Karzai, then with Zardari. They will all then meet with their full delegations and all three leaders will speak. After meeting with Zardari and Karzai on Wednesday, Secretary Clinton will propose benchmarks for the countries to measure success before they meet with President Obama. Acting State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters that they're "a set of principles that's going to guide our joint cooperation as we go forward in dealing with these tremendous challenges that both Pakistan and Afghanistan face." President Obama will in the afternoon hold separate meetings with both Karzai and Zardari, and then the three will all meet. In the evening, Vice President Biden will host a dinner with the leaders, their delegations, and congressional leaders. On Thursday the trilateral meetings will continue in breakout sessions. Holbrooke and Gen. Petraeus are also taking a leadership role in many of these meetings. Holbrooke just returned from a donor conference where he secured $5.5 billion in pledged aid for Pakistan -- including $1 billion from Japan, and $330 million from Iran. This process began when President Obama ordered a full-scale review of the policy in the region before his inauguration. As part of that new policy, released at the end of March, President Obama pledged frequent trilateral talks. The next one will be after the Afghan elections in August. The administration says the problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan pre-date the Taliban, pre-date even the USSR invading Afghanistan, going back to the partition of the two countries. -- Jake Tapper, with Luis Martinez and Kirit Radia

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