Progress in Afghanistan: Will the U.S. Strategy Succeed?

Many apologies for the delayed posts. August is a bit of a lazy month in Washington–especially in terms of the Hill and think tanks. This week, there weren’t too many events to cover, seeing as Obama has been on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. Next week, we kick things off with some action in the Middle East–Obama is set to start peace talks again b/w Palestine and Israel, and he’s going to make a big speech on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Brookings held an interesting discussion on success in Afghanistan from the perspective of a former Pakistani general and a State Department official. Also, one of my favorite speakers on foreign policy, Steve Coll, spoke at the widely-attended event.

Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, said that the U.S. has had more success in Pakistan because the interactions have been between the two governments with limited military and civilian interaction. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has been accused of causing high numbers of civilian causalities and not mingling well with the Afghans who either see the troops as saviors or invaders.

“Overall, we are doing well. The strategy is still moving forward,” he said. “we’re seeing much more impact of our efforts to change our relationship with Pakistan.”

This assessment came around the same time that reports were released of Taliban members plotting to attack aid workers who are assisting in flood relief efforts. An interesting article also came out this week on why fewer people are donating to Pakistan than the crisis in Haiti. Essentially, people aren’t as heartbroken over the Pak floods because they are less catastrophic than the massive earthquake in Haiti and the Haitians are seen as entirely helpless and “innocent” compared to people in Pakistan, where some of the population is associated with the Taliban (this is from the article, not my personal assessment). Because of tension between Pakistan and the U.S., some people feel less inclined to donate. But with that being said, the U.S. has donated so much to Pakistan because if radical Islamic groups donate more, it could have a great outcome on our “war against terrorism.”

“Obviously we are very concerned that this does not have a long-term impact on stability and institutions,” Nasr said of the floods. “But the way in which the U.S. has reacted in some ways shows the importance of the strategy. The U.S. reacted quickly because of the interagency teams it had put together. It made for a much quicker turnaround.”

Gen. Jehangir Karamat (ret.) said that the U.S.’s efforts in Pakistan will have a great impact on its success in Afghanistan.

“I really think there’s no real alternative to what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan,” he said. He said a lot of the negativity towards the U.S. in Pakistan is linked to the public’s ignorance of the intricacies of the relationship.

Right now, the government is heavily reliant on the U.S. to take care of the floods. “I think what happens between Pakistan and the U.S. on the positive side doesn’t come up in Pakistan media and in discussions. That is driving the opinion.”

He said the biggest issue to the people of Pakistan in the coming months will be recovery efforts and the rebuilding of their economy.

Coll concluded the discussion with a fundamental question he felt would dictate the path of the U.S/Pakistan relationship in the midst of flood relief and potential talks with the Taliban.

“We need to ask whether as partners with the state of Pakistan, as provisioners of generous aid, is the Pakistani state doing EVERYTHING it could be reasonably asked to do to contain and break down the historical relations with these groups?”

Debate inside the U.S. continues over this very issue, but Karamat asserted that “without unraveling the state, Pakistan is doing everything possible to support the US strategy in Afghanistan and to work things out with India.”