Afghan-Pakistani Border Stability Operations Focus of U.S. Aid

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The United States is working with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to build stability along the rugged border between those two nations.

The presidents of both countries recognize the importance of stabilizing the border region and the need to improve mutual relations, according to an assessment offered to members of Congress July 12 by Ambassador Richard Boucher.  Boucher is assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs.

The United States and NATO allies are working “to foster expanded Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral dialogue, stronger economic and trade ties and deeper cooperation between Pakistani and Afghan border security forces,” Boucher testified.

Boucher testified at a hearing of a House subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs.

The United States is pursuing a long-term strategic partnership with Pakistan that is both multidimensional and enduring, he said, adding that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is key to the stability and prosperity of the whole region.

This will be a politically important year in Pakistan, Boucher said, with upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections looming “as critical benchmarks” to measure Islamabad’s progress toward full democracy.  The United States wants to see “free, fair elections this year,” he said, with the participation of all political parties.

Toward that end, Boucher said U.S. officials have encouraged the Pakistan election commission to provide lists of voters at election centers where they can be checked readily for duplicate or missing names.  In addition, transparent ballot boxes have been distributed, which make it more difficult to stuff them fraudulently.

How the elections are conducted “will help determine whether Pakistan makes a successful transformation into a prosperous and stable democracy,” the assistant secretary said, “and we intend to assist President [Pervez] Musharraf to fulfill his commitment to this goal.”

To support Pakistan’s transition to democracy and civilian rule, Boucher said, the United States is working with Pakistanis to strengthen press freedoms and to ensure the criminal justice system is fair and impartial, an independent judiciary is in place, and civil society organizations and political institutions are responsive to citizen needs.

The United States also has been strengthening Pakistan’s primary and higher education system, providing nearly $70 million in 2006.  Additionally, Boucher said, the United States is working to extend women’s rights and legal protection for religious and ethnic minorities through partnerships with Pakistani groups and nongovernmental organizations.  Promoting women’s health and confronting child labor and human trafficking are also high priorities.

Various subcommittee members pressed Boucher about problems in sections of the country that are beyond the control of the central government.  He said there is turmoil in these regions, but “we are capturing the bad guys” who are wanted as terrorists.

He said the Pakistani government has caught and turned over to the United States senior al-Qaida leaders, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – considered the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - and three others in recent months.

Boucher also cited U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in closing down the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network and expressed confidence in Pakistan’s control of its nuclear materials.

Boucher was asked about the recent turmoil caused by the takeover of the Red Mosque by Pakistan extremists.  He said that Musharraf showed restraint until the extremists failed to choose a peaceful outcome and the threat to security became intolerable. Musharraf has domestic support for his efforts to deal with extremists, Boucher said, and “it is a constant and long-term effort.”


With respect to Afghanistan, Boucher said U.S. initiatives to promote democracy and good governance are gaining traction and the Afghan parliament is “assuming its appropriate role as a deliberative body.”

But he said there are key challenges to be addressed in the area of counternarcotics, promotion of the rule of law and enhancement of the government’s judicial capacity.

Boucher also was asked about official Afghan complaints about loss of civilian lives occurring inadvertently as part of U.S. and coalition counterterror operations.  Each incident is taken very seriously, he said, adding that “we need to do better” to prevent future civilian deaths.  At the same time, he said the enemy intentionally puts innocents in harm’s way and purposely kills civilians for effect.

A transcript of Boucher’s testimony is available on the State Department’s Web site.