The Holes in Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan ('Af-Pak') Strategy

Wat gaat de VS doen als de Afghanen en Pakistani niet voldoen aan de hen gestelde eisen? En naar welke maatstaven beoordelen we de resultaten van eigen militaire en civiele inspanningen? Zijn er alternatieve strategieen in beschouwing genomen en is er een ‘exit-startegie’? Dat zijn vragen die veteraan-strateeg Leslie Gelb stelt bij de nieuwe aanpak van de regering-Obama. Wij plaatsten hierbij al andere kritische aantekeningen.

The Holes in Obama’s Afghanistan Plan, by Leslie H. Gelb With great strength and steely determination in his voice and demeanor, President Obama presented his one-shoe policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday. The one shoe was to assure Americans, Afghans, Pakistanis, and the world that the great American commitment to fighting terrorism would not be "a blank check." He looked sternly into the cameras and said that Pakistanis and Afghans alike would be held accountable for their performances. He even said that we would hold ourselves accountable for our own performance there. But nowhere did he drop the other shoe. What would we do if Afghans and Pakistanis failed to meet our benchmarks?

Would we merely scold them? Would we stop helping them? And what would we do about our own performance, if it turned out to be wanting? Indeed, not only did this second shoe fail to drop, but we have no idea what the second shoe is all about-because the Obama team has yet to formulate the very benchmarks that the president says are at the heart of his new and hard-headed strategy. It seems to me that the president can’t make final decisions on the strategy without clearly delineated benchmarks, which are necessary to judge the viability and accountability of the strategy…

For those of you who haven’t caught up with the details of the new Obama strategy, the key points are: Treating Afghanistan and Pakistan as one policy unit. That is, we cannot succeed in Afghanistan without succeeding in Pakistan. Major push for a regional contact group to assist us in unspecified ways and to include China, Russia, India, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian states. (Please note the inclusion of the UAE if you need to laugh.) Increase in U.S. troops above the 17,000, approved two weeks ago, by another 4,000, bringing the U.S. total to more than 60,000. (We know that the U.S. military had requested an additional 30,000 above this number and Obama promised to look at that request in the future).
Vast increases in the Afghan army and police, and the U.S. funds to pay for this and the 4,000 troops cited above to train them. Vast increases in U.S. economic aid and hundreds more civilian personnel to carry out the needed economic programs and an additional commitment of $1.5 billion yearly in economic aid to Pakistan. Attempting to split up the Taliban and to divide them from al Qaeda. Strengthening the government in Kabul and dealing with corruption and the vast drug-production effort in poppy-field heaven. Getting the Pakistanis to take troops off their border with India and redeploy them to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in its northwestern provinces. These measures, Obama said, will be the means by which we pursue America’s new objectives. Blessedly, Obama excluded from those goals the principal Bush effort to transform Afghanistan into a democratic, free-market paradise. (The resurrection of that effort will have to await the Palin administration.)

Obama had a lot of his own goals to offer instead, including to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future." He offered a number of additional goals as he made his way through his presentation, but rest assured, they only add to the burdens we can expect to bear. Obama didn’t describe the U.S. aim as he had the last few weeks, namely "to ensure" that Afghan soil would not be used for terrorist attacks. But that was the sum and substance of it. It is a very ambitious goal.

Obama gave us not the slightest glimpse of the policy alternatives he had under review. It’s absolutely critical to our ability to evaluate the good sense of what he’s doing to see what he chose not to do. Did he look, for example, at the alternative of surging for three years to give Afghan friendlies a boost, then withdrawing combat forces, while we tried to split the Taliban and put in place a policy of deterrence and containment of future terrorist threats?..

In the private deliberations leading up to today’s speech, Obama repeatedly told his principal advisers that they needed "an exit strategy." And in Friday’s speech, he stressed that "we will not blindly stay the course."
We can only hope that there is substance behind this phrase and that he and his aides have actually concocted an exit strategy. Of course, I don’t expect him to share that exit strategy with us; it would be unsettling to our friends in South Asia. But I hope he actually has one – unlike the yet-to-come benchmarks.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009) which shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Holes in Obama’s Afghanistan Plan (Leslie H. Gelb, Council on Foreign Relations)

US House Members to Obama: Rethink Afghanistan Surge (by John Nichols, The Nation)

Top Democrats and many prominent supporters — with vocal agreement, tactical quibbles or total silence — are assisting the escalation of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The predictable results will include much more killing and destruction. Back home, on the political front, the escalation will drive deep wedges into the Democratic Party…

A report from the Carnegie Endowment began this year with the stark conclusion that "the only meaningful way to halt the insurgency’s momentum is to start withdrawing troops. The presence of foreign troops is the most important element driving the resurgence of the Taliban." Hayden made the same point when he wrote that "military occupation, particularly a surge of U.S. troops into the Pashtun region in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the surest way to inflame nationalist resistance and greater support for the Taliban."..

Democrats and War Escalation (By Norman Solomon in Common Dreams / ICH)

The AfPak Paradox (John Pradosin Foreign Policy in Focus)
The Problem of Pakistan

..Meanwhile in Pakistan, the center of Taliban (and al-Qaeda) power lies beyond the reach of U.S. forces. An elaborate border surveillance network has attempted to impede insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan, but this is likely to be no more effective than similar American efforts in Vietnam or French ones in Algeria. Pressure on Pakistan to take action against the insurgents has had marginal payoff. Worse, the delicate balance of political forces in Pakistan militates against success in this area. Indeed there have been repeated — and increasingly more concrete — allegations that Pakistani intelligence is actually helping the Taliban. The CIA covert operation that has used armed drones to attack insurgent targets is worth a detailed investigation elsewhere, but here it is sufficient to say that this has become as controversial in Pakistan as are American air operations in Afghanistan. Leader "plinking" is not going to win the Afghan war and may end up destabilizing a U.S. ally.

In short, AfPak poses a paradox for the Obama administration. No course presently on the table offers any sure way forward. Benchmarks aren’t likely to be met, which will crystallize Obama’s original doubts about an exit strategy. When that happens, the greater size of the U.S. military commitment, and the extremely limited capacity to transport forces into and out of Afghanistan, will make any withdrawal difficult if not impossible. This problem isn’t going away; it’s getting worse.

The AfPak Paradox (John Pradosin Foreign Policy in Focus)

The Afghan Rubik’s Cube (Conn Hallinan in FPIP)

Afghanistan is a gatherer of metaphors: "crossroads of Asia," "graveyard of empires," and the "Great Game," to name a few. It might be more accurate, however, to think of it as a Rubik’s Cube, that frustrating puzzle of intersecting blocks that only works when everything fits perfectly. The trick for the Obama administration is to figure out how to solve the puzzle in a timeframe rapidly squeezed by events both internal and external of that war-torn central Asian nation…

Solving the Cube

While the Taliban have united to fight, Mullah Omar, through Saudi Arabian King Abdullah, also made a peace offering that no longer requires western forces to withdraw before opening talks. The plan proposes setting a timetable for withdrawal, forming a "consensus government," and consolidating the Taliban forces into a national army.

The inclusion of Iran in an upcoming conference on Afghanistan draws in a key regional player that the Bush administration deliberately kept out of the process.

To make all the cubes fit together, the Obama administration will have to recognize that the United States is only one player at the table and that the interests of other parties, both inside and outside of Afghanistan, must be given equal weight.

Above all, Washington must avoid both an aggressive military surge that would further destabilize Afghanistan and the dead-end tactic of refusing to talk with people we don’t agree with.

The Afghan Rubik’s Cube (Conn Hallinan in FPIP)

Obama’s Afghanistan: A Bridge Too Far for the Europeans? (Fabrice Pothier in Boulevard Exterieur / carnegie Endowment Europe)

Overall, Europe can certainly do more and better, and Obama’s strategy has created some opportunities for tactical alignment with the transatlantic partners. But when Afghanistan urgently requires strategic re-engagement and resolve, Europe is unlikely to do enough. Clearly, 2009 is the year when Afghanistan is set to become an American fought war with international support rather than a coalition effort.

Obama’s Afghanistan: A Bridge Too Far for the Europeans? (Fabrice Pothier in Boulevard Exterieur / carnegie Endowment Europe)

Every foreign power to enter Afghanistan in the last 2,500 years has faced these challenges in one form or another. All failed to overcome them. The likelihood of the United States breaking this pattern is slight. It is becoming clear, however, that the Obama administration at least understands the odds it faces.

Obama’s War – Redefining Victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Milton Bearden in Foreign Affairs)

President Obama: ‘A Comprehensive and New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan’ (2)


2 thoughts on “The Holes in Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan ('Af-Pak') Strategy

  1. Taliban in Pakistan are a different entity from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistani Taliban is a bunch of criminal terrorists drawn from local criminals in Swat and Waziristan. Their campaign is run through kidnapping for ransom and selling opium/processed heroin to the outside world.
    Whereas Taliban in Afghanistan represent a Pashtun insurgency which like Bathists in Iraq embodies a major section of society which was in power and was ousted from power by the Americans and NATO.
    By Sikander Hayat

  2. Mr Sikander Hayat, thank you very much for your reaction.
    Could you give your perspective on Obama’s new strategy for ‘AfPak"?

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