WASHINGTON, Jan 13: US Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton told her confirmation hearing on Tuesday that fighting terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan would be the highest priority of the Obama administration.

“It is imperative that we work with our friends in both Pakistan and Afghanistan” to defeat terrorists in that region, she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The democratically elected government in Pakistan seems to be much more aware (than the previous government) of how this is their fight, not just ours,” she added.

Both President-elect Barack Obama and Senator Clinton believe that the United States should make a more focussed commitment to stabilising Afghanistan and to pushing Pakistan to eliminate the so-called terrorist havens in Fata.

Senator John Kerry, the committee’s new chairman, agreed with her, saying that “Pakistan and Afghanistan are definitively the front line of our global counterterrorism efforts.”

Mr Kerry said in an interview on Monday that as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would push for tripling non-military US aid to Pakistan, putting that country and Afghanistan at the top of his panel’s agenda in the new Congress.

In his opening statement in Senator Clinton’s confirmation hearing, Senator Kerry also stressed the need for establishing a stable state in Afghanistan.

Senator Kerry warned that the US faced “a gargantuan task” in Afghanistan and Pakistan and to succeed there it must “fundamentally redefine” its approach.

“We went into Afghanistan to deny Al Qaeda sanctuary. Our goals must be defined by our original mission, by the regional security context, and by the tribal, decentralised nature of the Afghan society,” he added.

In her written statement to the committee, Ms Clinton noted that the 70 days since the US presidential election offered fresh evidence of the urgency of the challenges confronting the United States.

She listed the new conflict in Gaza and terrorist attacks in Mumbai on the top of her list of new challenges that will test the Obama administration.

“Equally important will be a comprehensive plan using all elements of our power — diplomacy, development and defence — to work with those in Afghanistan and Pakistan who want to root out Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other violent extremists who threaten them as well as us,” she said.

Senator Clinton noted that Mr Obama had called the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan the central front in the fight against terrorism. “We need to deepen our engagement with these and other countries in the region and pursue policies that improve the lives of the Afghan and Pakistani people,” she said.

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