October 6, 2009 / 11:47 PM / 10 years ago

Pakistan seeks long-term commitment from U.S.

* Appeal comes as U.S. debates Afghanistan troop levels

* U.S. retreated from region after 1989 Soviet withdrawal (Adds Kerry, Qureshi comments on aid bill, paragraphs 10-13)

WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Pakistan’s foreign minister urged the United States on Tuesday to make a long-term commitment to his country, neighboring Afghanistan and the region as President Barack Obama reviews his Afghan strategy.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made the appeal as the Obama administration debates whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan or scale back the mission and focus on striking al Qaeda cells.

Speaking after talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Qureshi alluded to the U.S. decision to effectively abandon Afghanistan after the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet forces and urged Washington to learn from its mistakes.

"What we are looking for is a long-term commitment," he told reporters at a joint news conference with Clinton.

"Why do I say that? Because the people of the region have to be reassured that the United States has a long-term vision, not just for Afghanistan and Pakistan but the entire region.

"The inconsistency of the past has to be kept in mind and we have to build on learning from the mistakes of the past," he said, without directly referring to U.S. history in the region.

In one sign of Washington’s interest in Pakistan, Congress voted on Sept. 30 to triple nonmilitary aid to help fight extremism in the nuclear-armed country.

SHIFTING FOCUS

The legislation authorizes $1.5 billion a year for the next five years as part of a bid to build a new relationship with Pakistan that no longer focuses largely on military ties, but also on Pakistan’s social and economic development.

Many Pakistanis feel the United States has blown hot and cold toward them based on its own strategic interests rather than out of any commitment to the country itself.

After meeting Qureshi on Capitol Hill, one of the authors of the legislation tripling U.S. development aid to Pakistan emphasized that it did not seek to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Senator John Kerry told reporters there were no conditions attached to the development aid and that the legislation’s conditions on military aid "do not require anything of Pakistan that is not already in the stated policy of the government and opposition parties."

The legislation stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight "terrorists," including Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda followers, on its soil. To keep military aid flowing, Pakistan must also cooperate to dismantle nuclear supplier networks.

Qureshi agreed that "there is no question of Pakistan’s sovereignty being compromised" by the measure.

The United States used Pakistan as a staging area to help supply the Afghan fighters who drove the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989. It subsequently largely retreated from the area, leaving many Afghans feeling abandoned.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, former President George W. Bush ordered U.S.-led forces to topple the Taliban regime that had seized control of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal.

With casualties rising, U.S. public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama’s aides once called the "good war" in Afghanistan, in contrast to the Iraq war launched by Bush in 2003. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chris Wilson)




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