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Karzai endorses US-Afghan policy

Pledges to work with Obama

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post / March 29, 2009
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KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said yesterday that he is in full agreement with President Obama's newly announced strategy for the country, saying it was "exactly what the Afghan people were hoping for" and promising to "work very closely" with the United States.

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, calling Obama's plan "better than we were expecting."

Like a cross-section of Afghans interviewed yesterday, Karzai said he was especially glad that Obama explicitly endorsed two ideas Afghan officials have been pushing for several years: that the fight against Islamist terrorism must focus on militant havens in Pakistan and that negotiations with Taliban insurgents are essential to ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

Afghan and US-led coalition forces have been fighting a revived Taliban insurgency for several years but have made little headway, while in Pakistan, other Islamist groups have made steady inroads into Pakistani society, using violent intimidation and religious influence.

Obama's strategy calls for a major expansion of Afghan security forces and the deployment of 4,000 new US troops to train them, on top of an additional 17,000 combat troops. It also proposes a boost in US assistance by specialized civilians, more economic aid to Pakistan in return for stronger action against Islamist militant groups, and support for a more honest and responsive Afghan government.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan also praised Obama's plan, telling Parliament yesterday that it represents a positive change in US policy. He specifically endorsed Obama's proposal to aid development in Pakistan's lawless border region as an antidote to Islamist extremism.

Afghans interviewed yesterday in Kabul said they were pleased that Obama had endorsed the idea of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban.

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