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WASHINGTON: Advocating a strong linkage between lasting security and economic opportunity, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Congressional support for continued economic assistance for both Pakistan and Afghanistan and noted that reconciliation in Afghanistan offers the best hope for stability in the region.

In a status report on Afghanistan and Pakistan Civilian Engagement, submitted to Congress, the chief American diplomat said assisting the two allied countries would secure American interests in the region.

“We will continue supporting an Afghan-led peace process that meets our red-lines.This won’t be easy, but reconciliation is still possible and is the best hope for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region,” Clinton said in a statement on release of the report.

“We will continue to build capacity and opportunity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across the region, because lasting stability and security go hand in hand with greater economic opportunity,” she added.

She told the lawmakers that the civilian surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan that President Obama launched in 2009 to accompany the military surge in Afghanistan has helped advance American goals of defeating al-Qaeda, reversing the Taliban’s momentum in key areas, and bolstering the economy and civil society of both countries.

“As US troops begin a phased drawdown in Afghanistan as part of the larger plan for transition, our civilian initiatives in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are assuming new importance.”

The report provides a thorough review of our civilian efforts, identifies significant challenges and areas of progress, and outlines the way forward.

It places the work of our diplomats, development experts, and other civilian specialists within the framework of the “fight, talk, build” strategy.

“We will continue the fight, as coalition and Afghan forces increase the pressure on the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other insurgents.”

In Afghanistan, “build” means supporting Afghans in laying the foundation for sustainable economic growth in the run-up to 2014, while also shifting from short-term stabilization projects to long-term development programs, Clinton noted.

In Pakistan, it means leveraging the resources provided by the landmark Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation to address major economic challenges that threaten Pakistan’s stability, Clinton remarked.

And across the wider region, it means pursuing a broader, long-term vision for regional economic integration, a New Silk Road, that will lower trade barriers, create jobs, and reinforce political stability, she added.

“Our civilian efforts were never designed to solve all of Afghanistan’s development challenges or to completely turn around Pakistan’s economy. But they do aim to give Afghans and Pakistanis a stake in their countries’ futures and undercut the appeal of insurgency.

This strategy is rooted in a lesson we have learned over and over again, all over the world, lasting stability and security go hand in hand with economic opportunity. People need a realistic hope for a better life, a job, and a chance to provide for their family.

It recognizes the vital role of women and civil society in building more stable and prosperous countries, and in achieving lasting peace and reconciliation. And it puts accountability and transparency at the heart of all our efforts.”

The top American diplomat underscored to skeptical legislators on the Capitol Hill that    “as our commanders on the ground will attest, it is critical to our broader strategy that civilian assistance continue in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Disengaging now would undermine our military and political efforts and the national security interests of the United States.”

“We know that there will be hard days ahead, but we believe that this strategy    “fight, talk, build” offers the best way forward. As we proceed, the support and advice of Congress will be crucial.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with members of both chambers and parties to ensure that our diplomats and development experts have the resources and support they need to advance our goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan and our national security around the world.”

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