Briefing on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The only exit strategy that Bruce and Michelle and I and the people we work for and with can see is pretty basic. We can leave as the Afghans can deal with their own security problems. That’s why the President today put emphasis on training the National Army, training and improving the National Police. And he said — and I would draw your attention to this — that there will be an increase in their numbers, although he did not give a precise figure. I’ve seen some in articles, particularly one in The New York Times the other day — those figures were figures kicking around in the planning process, but they weren’t sufficiently scrubbed down; they weren’t sufficiently costed out. So the President felt that he ought to just talk about the increase now and we’re going to keep working on it.

It’s a — that is — the exit strategy of course includes governance, corruption, but above all — and this is the single most difficult aspect of what we’re talking about today — above all, it also requires dealing with western Pakistan, because you could have a great government in Kabul; you could have a government that fulfills every criteria of democratic governance, and if the current situation in western Pakistan continued, the instability in Afghanistan would continue.

You all know that, those of you who’ve been there. It is clearly reflected in Margaret Warner’s series from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Lehrer NewsHour recently. It’s been reported in every one of your newspapers. CNN has done it. We have to deal with this western Pakistan problem. And I think Bruce and Michelle and I and our superiors would all freely admit that that is, of all the dilemmas, problems and challenges we face, that’s going to be the most daunting, because it’s a sovereign country and there is a red line. And the red line is unambiguous and stated publically by the Pakistani government over and over again: No foreign troops on our soil.

Q Do you support Karzai? Do you support President Karzai and his brother? Do you fully support them?rus

MR. RIEDEL: We support the elected leadership of Afghanistan and we support the elected leadership of Pakistan. In the elections process, this is a decision for the Afghan and Pakistani people; it is not an American decision, and the United States is not endorsing candidates.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Let me phrase it even more precisely, because we have a mantra we’re going to work out on this, and it’s very clear. As I’m sure most of you know, the Constitution says under Article 61 that President Karzai — not President Karzai — but the President’s term ends on May 22nd. The election commission decide — which meant the election should be held on April 21st. The election commission in Afghanistan said they wanted to postpone the election to August 20th for various reasons. There may be a runoff that would take it to October 2nd.

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