US banks on India, Pakistan for stability after Afghanistan pullout

Washington, May 28 : As President Barack Obama announced plans for Afghanistan after ending US combat mission by year end, the US hoped India, Pakistan and Afghanistan would help provide greater stability and security in the region. India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif had set a “constructive tone from the very beginning,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday in a background briefing on Obama’s plans.

Under Obama’s plan to “bring America’s longest war to its responsible end,” the US which currently has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan will keep 9,800 troops there after December 2014. The US will then gradually withdraw troops keeping only a small residual force by the end of 2016 — just three weeks before his presidency ends.

Obama said Americans have learned it was harder to end a war than to start one. “we have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.” The role of US troops in Afghanistan after this year will be aimed at “disrupting threats caused by Al Qaeda, supporting Afghan security forces and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed as they stand on their own,” he said.

However, the US plan depends on the Afghans signing a bilateral security agreement. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign such an agreement, both the candidates in next month’s runoff presidential election have indicated a willingness to do so. “With respect to India, I think we’ve seen a constructive tone set from the very beginning by Prime Minister Modi and by Prime Minister Sharif, who was one of the first leaders to speak to” Modi after his election victory, the US official noted.

Noting that Sharif had travelled to India for Modi’s swearing in and the two had met Tuesday, he said: “We always encourage India and Pakistan to pursue dialogue that can reduce tension.” “We believe that that is in the interest of the entire region. And so we’ll continue to encourage that.” “So with that new leadership in India, the new leadership in Pakistan, and the new president coming to office in Afghanistan this year, I think we have an opportunity to have that discussion about how all the countries in the region can provide for a greater stability and security,” the official said.

“And that’s certainly something we’re going to pursue,” he said. People have been wondering how “the region is going to respond in kind as the international community draws down in Afghanistan,” the official said as “regional dynamics, particularly with regards to their proxies, matters considerably to future stability in Afghanistan.” “But in recent and operational terms, the attack against the Indian consulate in Herat raised that very question,” he said.

However, the US was “hopeful that the initial indication between both Islamabad and New Delhi is a positive one” he said taking note of Sharif’s attendance at the swearing in. Sharif’s “first such visit in many years” was “reminiscent of the last time there was significant progress” between the two countries when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power during Sharif’s previous term as Prime Minister in the late ’90s, the official said.

“They made progress along lines that looked very much like what we have now,” he said. “So we’re cautiously hopeful that that could be a positive indicator, but we’re also mindful that this will be very important to the dynamic going forward,” the official said.