US will begin Afghan withdrawl from July next year: Holbrooke

The process of withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan will begin in July next year and will be completed in four years in a phased manner, America`s Special Envoy for Af-Pak region Richard Holbrooke said Sunday.

Last Updated: Nov 14, 2010, 23:39 PM IST

Islamabad: The process of withdrawing US combat troops from Afghanistan will begin in July next year and will be completed in four years in a phased manner, America`s Special Envoy for Af-Pak region Richard Holbrooke said Sunday.

The process of troop withdrawal is not an exit strategy but a transition strategy, Holbrooke told reporters at a roundtable discussion here.

The US wants to return full sovereignty to the people and government of Afghanistan, he said.

A summit of NATO countries to be held next week will be attended by US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be invited to put forth his plans and policies, Holbrooke said.

The Taliban`s demand for Karzai`s removal is unacceptable, he said.

"The US and other countries, including Pakistan, support the government of President Karzai and the Taliban will have to live with this reality," he added.

Holbrooke told a questioner that Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to cooperate to resolve the issue of terrorism.

"If Pakistan wishes to play a role and support the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, it would be welcomed," he remarked.

Replying to another question, Holbrooke said the launching of a military operation in North Waziristan tribal region would be a tactical decision to be made by the Pakistan Army and the government.

At the moment, the Pakistan Army feels that it does not have the resources for this purpose, he said.

Asked about the sources of funding for terrorists and militants, Holbrooke said the funds primarily come from outside Pakistan and through the extortion of NATO supply convoys.

"This is a serious issue and we are working on it," he said.

Asked whether Obama`s endorsement of India`s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council would hamper efforts to reduce tension between Pakistan and India, he said the US favours greater understanding between the two countries. He said the US leadership has repeatedly said that the two countries should work out their differences.

The ability of the US to talk freely and candidly with Pakistan and India would be helpful in reducing tension, he contended.

Responding to a question, Holbrooke said the US made a mistake by abandoning Pakistan and Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but it would not repeat this mistake. "The US commitment to this part of the world is long and enduring, encompassing economic development as well," he said. The US has a new and dynamic policy of assistance for Pakistan and the leadership of the two countries have developed a personal rapport, Holbrooke said.

He added that he would make an announcement at the meeting of the Pakistan Development Forum tomorrow to demonstrate America`s commitment to provide funds to help Pakistan.

The US has provided about half a billion dollars worth of assistance so far to help Pakistan cope with the aftermath of devastating floods, he said.

Sixty per cent of the pledges of USD 5.3 billion made at the Tokyo donors` meet last year have materialised so far, he added.

Holbrooke appreciated the Pakistan government?s difficult decision of tabling legislation in parliament for imposing flood tax and a Reformed General Sales Tax.

The world is ready to assist Pakistan in addressing the challenge posed by floods but mobilization of domestic resources will send a positive signal to the international community that the country is serious about helping itself, he said.

PTI