The New York Times, By Alissa J. Rubin
15 May, 2011
KABUL, Afghanistan — Osama bin Laden’s death will allow “a new phase” in the United States’ relationship with Afghanistan, one that could include reductions in troops and spending, Senator John Kerry said while visiting here on Sunday.
Senator John Kerry at a news conference at the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
That message, which has been bandied about in Congress and on television talk shows in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan two weeks ago, appears to be more of an inevitability as policy makers look closely at the amount being spent in Afghanistan and ask where security threats are most severe.
As his two-day visit in Afghanistan came to a close, a central point made by Senator Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was that events in Pakistan and its relationship with the United States will have the biggest impact on security here.
“I have consistently said every year that Pakistan may do more to determine the outcome of what happens in Afghanistan” than anything else, he said.
He spoke at a news conference in Kabul before heading to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, where he is expected to have blunt conversations with military and civilian leaders.
Mr. Kerry indicated that during briefings in Khost Province, where the United States keeps watch on Pakistani tribal areas, he had been told that Pakistan remained involved in helping to send insurgents into Afghanistan.
“Yes, there are insurgents coming across the border. Yes, they are operating out of North Waziristan and other areas of the sanctuaries. Yes, there is some evidence of Pakistan government knowledge of some of these activities in ways that are very disturbing,” he said. “That will be, without any question, one of the subjects of conversation. It will not be the first time this has been raised.”
As far as Afghanistan goes, he said, “We’re at a critical moment where we may be able to transition at a greater speed.”
Mr. Kerry did not specifically mention civilian casualties. But when he spoke about “reducing the footprint,” he seemed to indirectly allude to civilian casualties and the house searches and night raids that Afghans hate.
After years of Western military and civilian leaders arguing that the deaths and raids, while regrettable, were a byproduct of NATO’s fight against terrorism, Mr. Kerry said that President Hamid Karzai’s complaints about them were “correct.” One benefit of reducing the number of troops, he implied, would be to also reduce such searches and civilian casualties.
What is being talked about, he said, is a “a smart, thoughtful way to rapidly, as rapidly as possible, while maintaining progress, shift responsibilities to Afghans,” he said.
Underpinning that judgment, he said, were conversations with President Karzai; Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior commander in Afghanistan; Karl W. Eikenberry, the American ambassador in Kabul; and other Afghan political figures, who all said that security had improved, which opens the way for a reduction in the NATO presence.
Senator Kerry acknowledged that improvements were needed in governance and in fighting corruption, but he sounded willing to be satisfied with the situation as it stands. “To the credit of the Afghans, they have made a series of choices and decisions and progress that is beginning to provide a road, even notwithstanding the level of cooperation of Pakistan,” he said.
Some lawmakers in Congress are demanding that aid to Pakistan be cut off or sharply reduced, but Mr. Kerry said such actions could have a profound effect on the extent to which Pakistan encouraged the largely Pashtun Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
“It’s important to try to not allow the passions of the moment to cloud over the larger goal that is in both of our interests,” Mr. Kerry said.