Afghanistan and Pakistan praised President Barack Obama's new U.S. strategy for dealing with growing violence in the two countries on Saturday. The strategy, announced Friday, seeks to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Qaida in the region by increasing civilian and military assistance on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The Afghan president, below, said Saturday that he was in "full agreement" with the strategy, saying it was "exactly what the Afghan people were hoping for" and promising to "work very closely" with the United States to implement the plan. After months of tension between the Afghan leader and officials in Washington, especially over civilian casualties caused by Western military forces, Karzai seemed pleasantly surprised by Obama's prescriptions for Afghanistan's problems, calling his plan "better than we were expecting." He said he was especially glad that Obama explicitly endorsed two ideas Afghan officials have been stressing for several years: that the fight against Islamist terrorism must focus on militant havens in Pakistan and that negotiations with Taliban insurgents are essential.
Asif Ali Zardari
The Pakistani president, left, also praised Obama's plan, telling members of Parliament in Islamabad on Saturday that it "represents a positive change" in U.S. policy. He specifically endorsed Obama's proposal to devote large amounts of aid to development in Pakistan's lawless border region as an antidote to Islamist extremism. Zardari said Pakistan would deal "firmly" with groups that seek to harm the government but did not elaborate. The Obama plan would toughen conditions for U.S. economic aid, making it conditional on a stepped-up commitment by Pakistan to fighting Islamist terrorism within its borders.
On the street
Afghans interviewed Saturday in markets, on university campuses and in offices in Kabul, the capital, said they were grateful that Obama had recognized the role of Pakistan as a sanctuary for Islamist terrorism and pleased that he had endorsed the idea of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban, calling this the only sensible way to make peace with their fellow Muslims. "The American government has finally realized the threat that comes from our neighbor," said Enayatullah Balegh, an influential cleric and Islamic law professor. Negotiating with the Taliban, he added, is "the only way to bring peace and stability.