(c) 2009, The Washington Post
WASHINGTON The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan will travel to Washington early next month for meetings with President Obama as the administration struggles against daunting hurdles to implement its new strategy for the region.
The visits, on May 6 and 7, will elevate to summit level a trilateral exchange begun by the administration with senior aides from each government in late February. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will meet separately with Obama, and the three will also sit down together, officials said Tuesday.
The administration considers cooperation between the two often-estranged governments crucial to the success of its Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. The Pakistani side of their shared border harbors a growing network of extremist groups, including al-Qaida and the Taliban, providing sanctuary for fighters combating U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and launching terrorist attacks inside Pakistan itself.
Obama has emphasized that the two countries should be considered in a single strategic framework. But administration officials have made clear that their deepest and most immediate concern is Pakistan, where the stability of the civilian government and its ability to withstand the extremist onslaught is increasingly in doubt. Worries were heightened last week when Zardari approved an agreement authorizing sharia, or Islamic law, in the Swat Valley just 100 miles west of the capital, Islamabad after the Pakistani military failed to rout Taliban fighters there.
With no U.S. military forces on the ground in Pakistan, the administration has fashioned a policy based on diplomatic backing for the civilian government, close mentoring and support of the Pakistani military, aerial-drone-launched missile attacks on terrorism targets, and vastly increased economic assistance focused on the western Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
At a Pakistan donors conference in Tokyo on Friday, the administration pledged $1 billion in economic aid in anticipation that Congress will approve a $7.5 billion, five-year package of assistance along with $3 billion in military equipment and training. A bill authorizing the aid has already been introduced in the House, although with conditions that both the administration and the Pakistanis find too restrictive.
In what administration officials considered a bright spot at the conference, Iran also pledged $350 million. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the gathering that his country was worried about the deteriorating situation in the region, echoing the Obama administration's charge that its predecessor failed to develop a coherent strategy for the Afghan war. "We would not have been witnessing the current situation in Pakistan if appropriate policies had been pursued in Afghanistan over the last seven years," Mottaki said.
The administration is facing the beginning of the spring fighting season against Taliban forces in Afghanistan, as well as presidential elections there in August. Obama has already authorized the deployment of 21,000 additional U.S. troops and hundreds of new diplomatic and other civilian officials.
In an effort to centralize control over uncoordinated U.S. development, counter-narcotics and governance efforts in Afghanistan, the administration also plans to appoint an overseer of all U.S. civilian assistance programs there. The choice for the post, Earl Anthony Wayne, is currently the U.S. ambassador to Argentina and previously served as assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week also ordered her department to review all U.S. Agency for International Development contracts in Afghanistan before they can be signed. Last week, the department opened an investigation of its largest Afghanistan contractor, Falls Church, Va.-based DynCorp International, following allegations of drug abuse among its employees.