| Clinton told Afghan civic leaders that the US would not abandon the country [AFP]
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has encouraged Afghanistan's wary leadership and civic leaders to keep up Taliban reconciliation efforts and boost counterterrorism co-operation with Pakistan, as the Obama administration presses ahead with troop withdrawal plans.
On an unannounced visit to Kabul, Clinton told civic leaders on Thursday that the US would not abandon Afghanistan and pledged that reconciliation would not come at the expense of women's and minority rights.
Clinton, who arrived in the capital on Wednesday, was to see President Hamid Karzai and other top Afghan officials to repeat her message later on Thursday.
She assured women's rights activists, educators and politicians that their concerns "are being heard at the highest levels of the US government".
"These are some of my heroes," she told reporters before the start of a meeting at the US embassy.
"I am here to have a reality check. I want to hear what people in Afghanistan are thinking about the way forward."
Clinton's trip comes after Karzai expressed frustration with attempts to woo Taliban fighters away from the fighting amid increasing attacks by the Taliban-allied, Pakistan-based Haqqani network.
In her meetings with Afghan officials, Clinton was also to underscore the importance of linking Afghanistan to its neighbours, a consideration for a regional conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in early November, US officials told the Associated Press.
Following the meeting with Karzai, Clinton is expected to hold a round-table meeting with non-government and civil society leaders, before heading on to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on Thursday evening.
Tensions with Pakistan
Clinton's visit comes after several high profile attacks have rocked Kabul.
The relationship between the US and Pakistan has been increasingly strained over the attacks in Afghanistan, with senior US officials blaming Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, for supporting the armed Haqqani Network that carried out many of the assaults.
Karzai's efforts to reach out to the Taliban, in the hopes of negotiating a peace deal, were thrown into disarray when his chief negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated last month.
After the assassination, Karzai said he had shifted his focus to talking with Pakistan whom he accused of "playing a double game".
Al Jazeera's Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said: “Security is on top of everyone’s agenda here, especially after the attacks we have seen in the recent months.”
"Clinton arrives as an offensive is going on along the Afghan Pakistan borders, as Afghan and NATO forces try to root out Haqqani fighters, … blamed for a number of those attacks here in Kabul and around the country and also believed to have links to Pakistan.
"That offensive has been going on since the weekend."
The increase in tensions between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan, an important regional player, has complicated the outlook as the Obama administration pushes ahead with plans to draw down troops and turn over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies