WASHINGTON – A Senior State Department official said the central focus of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit this week is for the U.S. and Afghanistan to kick off a dialogue on the bi-lateral relationship between the two countries beyond the presence of U.S. troops and lay a groundwork for a long-term partnership.
"The main thing is to start thinking about getting out of narrow mentality of the next big offensive and looking at the relationship over the long term," the official said. "What do we want our relationship to be about?"
The official said Washington and Kabul have not yet addressed their long-term relationship, which would begin to be fleshed out during Karzai's visit. One of main "deliverables" Karzai is looking for, the official said, is a commitment by the United States that it will be engaged with Afghanistan beyond the July 2011 date President Obama has laid out for U.S. troops to begin to withdraw. As such, discussing a "strategic partnership" between the two countries would be high on the agenda.
"He wants to know the U.S. is with Afghanistan beyond the July 2011 date and beyond the core goals," the official said. "To really lock in U.S. national security interests means Afghanistan can't go back. Allowing it to be undone is not in our interests or in the interests of the people of Afghanistan. That is the thing he wants us to explain, that the U.S. is committed to the long term. That doesn't mean combat troops but it doesn't mean civilian and security assistance ends when we lease. We are seriously looking at the strategic partnership, not just the dynamic of the insurgency but also Afghanistan's future role in the region as a source of stability."
The official said Karzai is also looking for support for his political efforts in Afghanistan, including political integration of members of the Taliban and other insurgents in advance of an Afghan "Peace Jirga" later this month.
"We support the intention, the problem is that this is complex and unpredictable process and we don’t know which way it will go," the official said. "He doesn't have a big program, there is no negotiating team yet. We are just starting to think about these political issues. When we say we want to support Afghan-led integration, we want to help them shape how it looks like. We will support a viable process which means he has to have one."