Rep. Ron Kind returned Sunday from a congressional fact-finding trip to Pakistan - a weeklong visit that comes at a time when the Obama administration is turning up the heat on Pakistan to do more to fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The trip also comes as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil a new strategy for Afghanistan that could include a significantly increased troop presence in the region.
Kind, who traveled to Pakistan as part of a four-member congressional delegation, said his discussions with U.S. and Pakistani officials gave him a better understanding of the key role that Pakistan will play when it comes to stability in the region. And he argues that Obama's forthcoming new strategy in Afghanistan should encompass ways to work with Pakistani officials to root out terrorists in the area.
"The true key to stability lies in the success of Pakistan," Kind said in a phone call with reporters Monday after returning from his trip. "It is in Pakistan where most of the Taliban and al-Qaida leadership reside."
Asked about Obama's expected announcement on a new strategy in Afghanistan, Kind said he thought a prolonged military presence "will not serve our interests well."
"After eight years now, people are getting tired, certainly our troops are," he said. "They're at the point of breaking."
He also said that adding a large number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan runs the risk of "Americanizing" the war in Afghanistan - something that would go against U.S. interests in the long term.
Kind said that the Obama administration should focus on training and equipping officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan so they can be the ones to take the lead on securing their countries.
The lawmakers on the trip spent most of their time in Pakistan's capital of Islamabad but also ventured out to the city of Peshawar, which has been rocked by insurgent violence, and to a refugee camp southwest of Peshawar.
Kind said his congressional delegation was in Peshawar during some of the bombings there over the weekend. The city, which has become a top target for insurgents in Pakistan, has been rocked by at least five attacks in the last week.
"Pakistan sits in the middle of the breeding ground for extreme terrorism that affects us all," Kind said. "They have been hit by more terrorist attacks and are doing more to capture and kill terrorists than any other country."
How that clash plays out, he said, is going to "determine whether those safe havens continue to exist." And the United States should do what it can to help Pakistan secure its own countryside, he said.
During their time in Pakistan, the U.S. lawmakers met with top U.S. and Pakistani officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.
Kind Sees Pakistan As Key To Regional Stability
Kind said he asked one question over and over during his meetings: What is going on with the search for Osama bin Laden?
"With all the Pakistani officials I met, Pakistani military, I kept asking, 'Where is he? Do you guys know?' They all claim they don't," he said. "He's fallen off the grid. . . . Out of curiosity, I kept raising that issue wherever I went, including with our own intelligence personnel operating in the region. It's a mystery."
This is Kind's second trip to Pakistan. Other lawmakers on the trip were Democratic Reps. John F. Tierney of Massachusetts, George Miller of California and Peter Welch of Vermont.