- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2010

UPDATED:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that women’s rights should not be sacrificed to any peace deal between the Kabul government and Taliban militants.

Speaking as Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with other U.S. officials, Mrs. Clinton told three senior female Afghan officials Thursday, “We will not abandon you,” amid concerns that any political settlement with the Taliban could result in severe restrictions on women’s rights.

Mr. Karzai came to the United States this week in part to persuade the United States to back his plans for ending the war through negotiations with militants. Taliban sympathizers routinely intimidate or attack women who work outside the home, wear western dress or try to attend school.

TWT RELATED STORY: Obama: ‘Hard fighting’ with Taliban, not Karzai

Mrs. Clinton said, “It is essential that women’s rights and women’s opportunities are not sacrificed or trampled on in the reconciliation process.”

She noted she had promised Mr. Karzai the United States would not “abandon Afghanistan in its quest for peace and long-term stability, and we will not. And I make the same pledge to the women of Afghanistan. We will not abandon you; we will stand with you always.”

Mrs. Clinton’s speech came after Mr. Karzai’s morning visit to Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60, a resting place for military killed in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq, Vietnam, World War II and other conflicts.

At one point, Mr. Karzai picked up and examined one of the pebbles placed at many of the graves by loved ones and visitors the area.

Separately, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said it will be months before Americans can judge if this year’s major military push into the major southern city of Kandahar has succeeded.

“It will be the end of this calendar year before you know,” Gen. McChrystal told reporters.

Kandahar is considered make-or-break for the expanded U.S.-led military commitment to Afghanistan, and the key test of whether Gen. McChrystal’s brand of counterinsurgency is working.

The NATO effort in Kandahar is already under way in outlying districts and is expected to move into the city of more than 1 million in June. The goal is to finish most of the fighting and have the bones of new Afghan central government operations in place by the end of summer.

That’s when some of the harder work begins, Mr. McChrystal suggested, because it will take much longer to persuade many Afghans to come of the fence and swing behind the Kabul government.

“They remain to be convinced,” he said.

Thursday’s events cap a series of meetings aimed at ending months of sniping and frustration over management of the war and fraud surrounding Mr. Karzai’s re-election last year. Both President Obama and President Karzai said at the White House on Wednesday that such disagreements are normal with so much at stake.

“There are moments when we speak frankly to each other, and that frankness will only contribute to the strength of the relationship,” Mr. Karzai said at a joint news conference with Mr. Obama.

Despite noting gains that have been made since he ordered thousands of additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said the war will get worse before it gets better. He stressed, though, that his plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces next summer remains on track.

“What I’ve tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months,” Mr. Obama said.

In his meetings with U.S. officials, including Mrs. Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Mr. Karzai repeatedly has called for the United States to respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and has expressed frustration with operations that have killed innocent bystanders.

Mr. Karzai also has sought reassurance from Washington that his country will not be abandoned after U.S. forces withdraw. Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and others have obliged, saying America will not cut and run.

Mr. Karzai was expected to make a joint appearance Thursday with Mrs. Clinton at the U.S. Institute of Peace for what was billed as a “moderated discussion.” They were expected to talk about the ups and downs of the relationship and the way ahead.

Mr. Karzai wraps up his four-day trip to Washington on Friday. Before heading back to Kabul, he is expected to visit Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is going to Afghanistan over the next several weeks, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

Associated Press videojournalist Bill Gorman and Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Pauline Jelinek and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

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