Thursday, March 26, 2009
Obama's New Afghan-Pakistan Regional Strategy
Early details of the Obama administration's new plan and strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan reveal emphasis on peeling away up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan from their leadership, substantial additional funding of over $50 billion for military operations and reconstruction aid, imposition of strict new conditions and performance benchmarks on Afghans and Pakistanis, and 17,000 additional US troops and 4000 trainers on the ground in Afghanistan, according to media reports.
On Friday, March 27, President Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said a US official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy, according to Washington Post. It is noteworthy that there is no talk of destroying the Taliban in this statement. Mr. Obama will describe his plan in a White House speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups.
The 4000 advisers and trainers will help with an effort by American commanders to double the size of the Afghan military by 2011.
The president's plan also is expected to call for hundreds more civilian experts to help build Afghanistan's economy, infrastructure and civil society. The idea there is to combat the Taliban insurgency by showing Afghans that the government can offer them a better life, according to NPR radio.
The plan is expected to include a recommendation to triple the amount of American aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for at least five years. The aid would be contingent on Pakistan's willingness to cut ties with the Taliban and fight the insurgents on its own territory.
The goals that Mr. Obama has set may be elusive and, according to some critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Central Asian states.
The Obama plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its regional rival, India, so it can concentrate more on fighting insurgents in its FATA region. This goal may be especially hard to achieve given the longstanding Kashmir dispute, the history of three wars in South Asia in more than a half century — and a nuclear arms race — between Pakistan and India.
In terms of new conditions for Afghans and Pakistanis, it is expected that there will be demands on Afghanistan to make more progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with the regions, while Pakistan will be asked to do more to cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.
The demand on Pakistan to "cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban" seems to be at odds with the desire to "peel away up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan from the Taliban’s leadership". Instead of engaging in the anti-ISI campaign, the US should see Pakistan's ISI's Taliban links as assets in America's efforts to reconcile with the vast majority of the Taliban. The British already see the value of the ISI-Taliban ties. According to the New York Times, the British government has sent several dispatches to Islamabad in recent months asking that the ISI use its strategy meetings with the Taliban to persuade its commanders to scale back violence in Afghanistan before the August presidential election there. There are reports that the Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to prepare for a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States sends more troops there this year.
As to the US demand on Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its ongoing rivalry with India, the failure to help resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute and the recent Indian war rhetoric in the aftermath of Mumbai make such a demand practically unacceptable by Pakistanis, even if they agree on paper.
Notwithstanding additional US aid to Pakistan, the unilateral and impractical demands on Pakistanis by the Obama administration while continuing Predator strikes and dismissing the strategic interests of Pakistan in its neighborhood, do not add up to a serious and workable strategy. Such a strategy may look good on paper but it will not lead to US success on the ground in Afghanistan.
US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?
Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?
20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan
Taming the ISI: Implications for Pakistan’s Stability and the War on Terrorism
Growing Insurgency in Swat
Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union
US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?
FATA Faceoff Fears
FATA Raid Charades