POLITICS
04/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Karzai "Extremely Gratified" By Obama's Afghan Policy

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was "extremely gratified" with Barack Obama's speech and approach to the war in Afghanistan, the president's chief diplomat to that country, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters on Friday.

Speaking to the press shortly after Obama laid out new diplomatic and military procedures to handle terrorism on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Holbrooke cautioned that he might have to "jump out" to take a call from the Afghan leader.

"President Karzai has called and is trying to reach me now," said Holbrooke. "He sent in word that he watched the speech live from CNN, that he was extremely gratified by it and would be issuing his own statement of support."

But while Karzai was passing on praise for Obama's approach to his country, the good will was not directly reciprocated. Noting that elections in that country were arriving shortly, Holbrooke and others decline to offer a specific endorsement of the Afghan leader -- just the "elected leadership."

"We support the elected leadership of Afghanistan and we support the elected leadership of Pakistan," said Bruce Riedel, chair of Obama's interagency policy review on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the president's address, while not weighing directly into internal Afghanistan governance, did little to hide his desire for greater reforms from that institution. Obama called for a renewed effort to build an Afghan Army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. But he warned that "this push must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people."

Hours after his speech, Holbrooke was stressing a similar point. And, like Obama, he made it a point to note the destructive role of instability and terrorist safe havens in Western Pakistan.

"We can leave as the Afghans deal with their own security problems," he said. "That's what the president put emphasis on today on training the national army, training the policy."

"The exit strategy," he went on, "includes governance, corruption, but above all, and this is the single most difficult aspect of what we are talking about today, it requires dealing with Western Pakistan... You can have a great government in Kabul and if the current situation in Western Pakistan continued the instability in Afghanistan will continue."

The focus on interconnectedness between Pakistan and Afghanistan is, indeed, the defining thread of the Obama policy -- one that has foreign policy observers alternatively thrilled and nervous. The president on Friday pledged "to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," by, in part, sending greater resources to Pakistani troops so that they could "root out the terrorists."

UPDATE: One of the unknown aspects of the president's Af/Pak plan is also one of the thorniest: whether or not the U.S. will send troops into Pakistan. Those briefing reporters have been either non-committal or, simply, unwilling to discuss this particular aspect of strategy, which has led to reports that Obama hasn't ruled the option out.

"I'm not going to comment on the notions you laid out there," Dennis McDonough, an Obama foreign policy adviser told a conference call of bloggers when asked about ground troops and drone attacks in Pakistan.

Here is what Holbrooke had to say about the matter:

We have to deal with this western Pakistan problem. And I think Bruce and Michelle and I and our superiors would all freely admit that that is, of all the dilemmas, problems and challenges we face, that's going to be the most daunting, because it's a sovereign country and there is a red line. And the red line is unambiguous and stated publically by the Pakistani government over and over again: No foreign troops on our soil.