May 5th, 2009
11:40 AM ET
13 years ago

Pakistan, Afghanistan take center stage on Capitol Hill

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Concerns over recent Taliban gains in Pakistan and Afghanistan are taking center stage on Capitol Hill."]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Concerns over recent Taliban gains in Pakistan and Afghanistan are taking center stage on Capitol Hill Tuesday as President Obama's point man for the region testifies before a key House committee.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also be visiting key congressional leaders and policymakers in advance of meetings with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later this week.

The visits are part of a series of tri-lateral meetings aimed at coordinating strategy in the region.

Obama's special representative to the region, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke, is expected tell members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that increased military and civilian aid is urgently needed in Pakistan.

Obama said last week that Pakistan's government appears "very fragile" and noted that it doesn't "seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services." The president argued that the United States has "huge national
security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable" and doesn't end up a "nuclear-armed militant state."

Holbrooke's testimony comes the day after two leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee introduced legislation tripling aid to Pakistan.

The Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, introduced by Senators John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Dick Lugar, R-Indiana, authorizes $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years to foster economic growth and development, and another $7.5 billion for the following five years.

The $1.5 billion per year would triple U.S. aid levels, currently at $500 million per year. In the past, U.S. military aid has surpassed economic and other assistance. The legislation also would separate military from
non-military aid, promising that economic aid "is no longer the poor cousin to military aid."

The Kerry-Lugar bill takes into account the fluid situation in Pakistan, leaving military aid to be determined on a year-by-year basis. But it requires Obama to certify Pakistani forces are making progress in combating al Qaeda and the Taliban and not interfering with civilian rule in order for aid to continue, a condition both the Obama administration and the Pakistani government have opposed.

The bill also calls for strict benchmarks to measure the effectiveness of the aid.

In rolling out his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March, Obama called on Congress to pass a stronger regional aid bill, versions of which have been introduced in previous sessions of Congress.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's military is continuing an assault on militants in Taliban-held areas after they seized territory in violation of an agreement signed this year by Zardari. The deal, criticized by the United States, allowed the Taliban to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in the region where the Taliban is strongest in exchange for an end to fighting.

On Tuesday, Pakistan civilians were ordered to evacuate areas of the Swat Valley, a signal that the country may soon launch another military offensive against the Taliban. Around 500,000 people are now planning to migrate out of the region, according to a Pakistani government official.

For the last two weeks, Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in Buner and Lower Dir, two districts bordering Swat. Army generals claim to have killed scores of militants.

The United Nations estimates more then 50,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Buner, located a little more then 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of the Pakistani capital.

The recent operations are part of the Pakistani army's intensified drive against the Taliban in its restive tribal regions. The Pakistani government has been criticized for not cracking down on militants along its border with Afghanistan. The militant activity in the border region has led the U.S. military to carry out airstrikes against militant targets in Pakistan. The strikes have rankled relations between the two countries.

After making two visits to Pakistan in the last three weeks, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he is "gravely concerned" about recent Taliban and al Qaeda gains across much of southern Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

The Taliban and al Qaeda are "recruiting through intimidation, controlling through fear, and advancing an unwelcome ideology through thuggery," Mullen said.

Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called Taliban gains in Pakistan an "existential threat" to the country.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Capitol Hill • Pakistan • President Obama
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. JonDie

    After Al Qaeda and the Taliban attacked us on 9-11 using Afghanistan as their base of operation, our REPUBLICAN president spent most of the US's money and prestige on the REPUBLICAN PARTY's criminal enterprise in Iraq.

    In Iraq, Bush and the REPUBLICANS got ~50,000 US soldiers needlessly killed or wounded even as the REPUBLICAN administration, with the rubber stamp of all REPUBLICAN and not a few Democrats, bankrupted our treasury and ignored both the mounting dander in Afghanistan and the mounting scandal on Wall Street.

    Obama's doesn't really have any options in Afghanistan so he probably should try a REPUBLICAN strategy from the Sarah Paline play book...stay as ignorant about the facts as possible and pray fervently that somehow things work out in our favor in spite of the fact that we have done and are doing everything wrong.

    May 5, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  2. Natasha

    No weapons formed against thee shall prosper.

    May 5, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. TC

    When I voted for President Obama, I expected we would have troops out of Iraq and would stop sending all this money to Pakistan. He has not delivered on the first promise and it looks as if he won't on the second. President Obama, I want CHANGE!

    May 5, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  4. Kevin in Ohio

    The Taliban has been energized by Obama's soft approach on the War on Terror. This is not a surprise.

    May 5, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. Cowboy in West Texas

    Crank up the money machine – I try to understand that there is a lot in the world that impacts us here in the USA, but I kind of think our government it fragile right now too! What with the two parties not even talking and if they do talk they call each other names. I want security for the USA like everyone – but if we don't put better control on our aid then we did on the bail out of banks and such – we are pouring money into a bottomless pit!

    May 5, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  6. Kelby In Houston, TX

    Did you know that they torture people in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan...and nobody cares.
    Yep, no bleeding heart liberals in Pakistan, just conservative hardliners who think its okay to torture people. They will even defend the act of torture. Thank God The United States of America is nothing like that.

    May 5, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  7. Fair is Fair

    You gotta do something here, Mr. Obama.

    Even though Pak's nukes are in components, that's all the Taliban would need to do would be to get their hands on the fissile material. If that happens... well, I don't even wan't to think about the consequences.

    May 5, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  8. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    The Pakistani's have been so involved in playing "war games" with India ever since the Brits gave Independence in 1947, that they have lost all sight of what to do to protect themselves from the Afgan's. The Brits and Russians couldn't win in Afganistan, so who says anyone else can?

    May 5, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    Good. Center stage is where they've belonged for 8 years. Instead we were at the Iraqi sideshow because the Bearded Cheney and his sidekick Troglodyte Boy decided to pay $1T for the distraction.

    May 5, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. Proud DHS radical

    Let's not forget that Pakistan nuclear weapons program was conducted during Bill Clinton tenure as President and both he and the CIA were surprised when the Paki's and India tested a nuke. Since then, the WH and State Department over the years have turned a blind eye to the problem until now when the Taliban is in a viable position to take over the government along with the nukes.

    Unless Obama's plans on sending in a raiding party to steal the nukes from the Pakistanis which is unlikely, the Taliban will soon have 50-60 nukes at their disposal. Of course India seeing a real threat of having the Taliban with their fingers on the nuclear button, may very well launch a preemptive nuclear strike themselves thereby solving the problem for us.

    May 5, 2009 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  11. J.P.

    Wait, wait, this must be an error. This can't be happening. I mean, we DID elect the guy the whole world had a BFF crush on. So why do radical muslims STILL want to kill us? I thought the whole world loves us now.

    Jihadists have faced bullets, bombs, suicide bombers, guided missiles, the Soviet military, the American military, NATO, droughts, rough mountain environments, brutal harsh winters, and a bushel basket full of inhuman 3rd Century treatments... but they're somehow now going to quake in fear because of a teleprompter.

    May 5, 2009 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  12. Baze

    I say let Pakistan become a nuclear armed militant state. India will waste its money in a war against them, which will slow down their economy, and put some more heat on the terrorists. Two ducks with one stone, plus, a nuclear armed terrorist country will open the door for the world to use more force against them.

    May 5, 2009 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. Mike, Syaracuse, NY

    I'm sure if Obama would just send a hand written apology to the Taliban, this will be all fixed up.

    May 5, 2009 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |


    May 5, 2009 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  15. S Callahan

    We know their will be peace in this region (yes, the Bible tells me so)...but it will be short lived..7 or so years...but some respite is good...
    This world needs a new generation to know 'real peace'....perhaps this will be the beginning of that.

    May 5, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  16. peakarack

    I think Barack Hussein Obama will be taking over Pakistan.

    May 5, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  17. Leah-Vancouver

    The Pakistan situations is real/

    Be thanksful and prays for the President to sucess in handling the situation in Pakistans because if Talibans and Al Queda gets their dirty hand on those nukes..
    God helps us all!

    May 5, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  18. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    Gee, you mean to tell me the economy was only the opening act?

    I wonder who's gonna be the main attraction on Washington's center stage?

    I hope it's Carlos Mencia.

    May 5, 2009 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |