CHENNAI, India — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday sought to soothe India's concerns over a US troop drawdown from Afghanistan, stressing Washington's commitment to the war-torn country.
The United States has announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan 33,000 surge troops by the end of September 2012, with 10,000 due to depart this year. The first batch of troops left earlier this month.
"Let me be clear... drawing down is not the same as disengaging," Clinton said in a speech in the southern Indian port city of Chennai.
"We will continue targeting terrorists and supporting the Afghan army and police... and we will continue our efforts to help the Afghan people rebuild after three decades of war," Clinton said.
India is extremely wary of the US troop withdrawal, fearing that Islamist elements within arch-rival Pakistan could take advantage of a power vacuum in Afghanistan.
Pakistan helped create the Taliban regime which took power in Afghanistan in 1996, imposing an austere brand of Islam on much of Afghanistan.
Islamabad switched sides and pledged support to the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But Indian and US experts believe that Pakistan has maintained ties with Taliban guerrillas in the hope of keeping leverage once US troops leave Afghanistan.
Noting Pakistan's "legitimate interests" in Afghanistan, Clinton said Washington expected Islamabad to press insurgents to join the reconciliation process in the country.
At the same time, Pakistan must prevent its territory being used for attacks that destabilise Afghanistan or India, and deny Al-Qaeda "the space to regroup and plan new violence."
"We all need to be on the same page for this to work," she said. "Whether we live in Kabul or Islamabad, New Delhi or Washington."
Following talks with Clinton in New Delhi on Tuesday, Indian Foreign minister S.M. Krishna underlined the importance of countries with a major presence in Afghanistan, especially the United States, continuing their work there.
"It is necessary for the United States to factor in Afghanistan's ground realities so that... Afghanistan will be in a position to defend itself against terrorism sponsored by the Taliban," Krishna said.
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