Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee briefing entitled “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Transition and the Way Forward”:

Madam Chairman, thank you for calling this important hearing on the Administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’d like to begin by commending Secretary Clinton for the leadership she and the President exhibited on Libya. As a result of your efforts, we were able to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, and ultimately create the conditions for the Libyan people to oust one of the world’s most brutal dictators.

Secretary Clinton, you have just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so this is a particularly good time to explore what remains one of the most important and complex foreign policy challenges of our time.

In 2009, when the Obama Administration took office, I was very encouraged by the President’s commitment to providing sufficient resources to our military forces, diplomats and aid workers in Afghanistan, and to renewing our partnership with the civilian leadership of Pakistan.

However, as I have communicated to you in recent months, I am deeply concerned about our rapidly deteriorating relationship with Islamabad, and how that impacts our efforts in Afghanistan.

Soon after the bin Laden raid, news reports indicated that Pakistani intelligence tipped off militants operating IED factories on Pakistani soil – factories that are making bombs to kill US troops.

And more recently, Admiral Mullen asserted that the Haqqani network – a group believed to be responsible for the September 10 truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers and the September 13 attack against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul – is a, quote, “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI. These events raise very serious questions about Pakistan’s commitment to work with us to defeat the terrorists that threaten Pakistan, and U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

This behavior must stop.

In 1957, President Eisenhower remarked that the United States was “doing practically nothing for Pakistan except in the form of military aid.” He voiced concern that the American commitment to Pakistan’s military was “perhaps the worst kind of a plan and decision we could have made.” “It was a terrible error…. but we now seem hopelessly involved in it.” Sadly, these words remain true today.

Given the current climate, I support the Administration’s decision to pause security assistance to Islamabad until Pakistan shows real progress in combating terrorist groups.

In fact, I believe we should reevaluate all military aid to Islamabad to ensure that it is meeting its intended purpose.

At the same time, I think it would be a mistake to slash our economic assistance to Pakistan. It’s in our long-term interest to support the continued development of Pakistan’s civil society and nascent democratic institutions. These are the critical building blocks of a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan – and ultimately, a stable Afghanistan and South Asia.

We must continue to find ways to partner with the people of Pakistan, who have become a casualty of misguided policies pursued by Pakistan’s military, and by civilian leaders seemingly unwilling to lead. Pakistanis are reminded of these failings every day by constant energy shortages, a never-ending financial crisis, political turmoil, and rising extremism.

The United States can’t solve all of Pakistan’s many problems. But we can make a difference. The recently-completed renovation of the Tarbela dam, funded by the U.S., means that one million more Pakistanis will have access to electricity. We should also take steps to strengthen Pakistan’s private sector by creating an American-Pakistan enterprise fund, which won’t cost the American taxpayers a single dime. Madame Secretary, I know you have expressed support for this concept.

In these difficult economic times, it is critical that any assistance we provide be sustainable and completely transparent, both to Pakistanis and to the American people who pay for it.

This is true not just in Pakistan, but with all our international programs. To those who suggest that foreign assistance is a luxury we can no longer afford, I say: America cannot afford a course of isolation and retreat. Rather than making indiscriminate cuts, we need to modernize and reform our assistance to make it more efficient, more effective, and better at serving our national interests.

Let me touch briefly on transition and reconciliation in Afghanistan. I support the President’s decision to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, but we must ensure that the gains made after ten years of fighting will not be lost.

The Strategic Partnership Declaration – which I look forward to learning more about – will serve as an important symbol of our long-term commitment to the government and people of Afghanistan, and is critical to regional security and to a successful transition.

While I appreciate the progress being made to cement our relationship with Kabul, I continue to have reservations about efforts to reconcile with the Taliban and al Qaeda-affiliated groups such as the Haqqani network.

As much as we all want the war to end, and to bring our troops home, I’m concerned that allowing these extremist groups to assume leadership positions in the government would threaten the gains we’ve made on counterterrorism, women’s rights and counter narcotics.

Even if these groups were sincere in their desire to reconcile – and I’m skeptical that they are –Pakistan remains the spoiler. Islamabad may share our general goal of a stable and secure Afghanistan, but I think we have very different definitions of stability.

Ultimately, we will not be successful in Afghanistan – militarily or politically – unless Pakistan plays a constructive role in allowing Afghans to determine the future of Afghanistan for themselves. Madam Secretary, how will we ever succeed in Afghanistan as long as Pakistan provides sanctuary for Afghan insurgents?

Once again, thank you for being here today. I look forward to your testimony.