WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday told a House committee al-Qaida still poses a threat but the "fight, talk and build" strategy is working.
In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Clinton said the deaths of Osama bin Laden and many of his top lieutenants have "greatly diminished" al-Qaida's ability to conduct operations, but the threat "remains real and urgent."
Afghan and coalition forces "have reversed the Taliban momentum" and Afghan forces are "taking more responsibility every day," Clinton said, adding international development efforts to fight poverty and corruption have "bolstered the economy and improved lives."
"We cannot let up. We should build on our momentum, not undercut our progress," Clinton said. "Ten years ago, fewer than a million students enrolled in Afghan schools, all of them boys; now more than 7 million, nearly 40 percent of them are girls. Afghans are better positioned to chart their own future."
Improved relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan "advance America's national security interests," Clinton said, "and walking away from them would undermine those interests."
"We want to move from aid to trade," she said, asking Congress to approve Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation to lower tariffs on products from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We are pursuing a broader, long-term vision for regional economic integration that we call the New Silk Road" in an effort to "get these countries that have so many problems with each other to begin cooperating."
The top U.S. diplomat told the committee the simultaneous three-track strategy of "fight, talk and build" is "mutually reinforcing" and greatly increases the chance of successful cooperation with governments in the region.
On her most recent visit to Pakistan, Clinton told leaders they must go after the safe havens in the border region and "trying to distinguish between so-called good terrorists and bad terrorists is ultimately self-defeating and dangerous."
"No one who targets innocent civilians of any nationality should be tolerated or protected," she said.
"Insurgents must renounce violence, abandon al-Qaida, and abide by the laws and constitution of Afghanistan, including its protections for women and minorities."
Clinton said she will emphasize the need to respect Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity when she meets with regional foreign ministers next week in Istanbul, Turkey.