Posts Tagged ‘us presence in afghanistan’
Last week, ex-CIA officer and current Brookings Institution fellow Bruce Riedel paid a visit to the Fletcher school to deliver a talk on US-Pakistan relations and promote his latest book.
Most of his remarks was boilerplate. The history of US-Pakistani ties have been a soap opera shrouded in mystery and distrust; the relationship is currently in crisis with a great potential for disaster in the future; and global jihadist groups are becoming more radicalized and coordinated operationally.
His recommendations weren’t new and were a little idealistic. The United States should mitigate Pakistan’s insecurities by creating a “regional diplomatic environment” (whatever that means) that encourages rapprochement with India, particularly on Kashmir. Washington should support civilian leaders and the democratic process instead of resorting to generals, even if the generals have proven more effective at governing and US presidents are often motivated by short-term goals like getting elected rather than promoting freedom.
All this, of course, assumes a long-term U.S. presence – a shaky assumption at the very least given the fact that Washington has twice taken its eye off the Af-Pak ball (once in the 1980s and another after the Iraq War in 2003). It also assumes that Pakistan would believe in this sustainability and change its policies accordingly away from short-term, self-help policies after a legacy of distrust and in an environment of insecurity.
I asked Mr. Riedel what his thoughts were on the sustainability of the U.S. presence. On the American side, he seemed to believe that U.S. President Barack Obama had his heart in the right place because he had twice rejected his own vice-president’s idea of ‘counter-terrorism lite’ in favor of a more muscular option. Furthermore, although announcing the July 2011 deadline in late 2009 was in his view “a mistake”, the Obama administration had subsequently walked back on it by first suggesting a 2014 deadline and then backing away even from that recently.
He admitted, though, that getting Pakistan and other actors to believe that the U.S. was in the region to stay was another question altogether:
My suspicion is that Rawilpindi still doesn’t get it, and they won’t get it until they wake up on July or August 2011 and see that we are still there.
That is an important distinction, I told Mr. Riedel, since key players need to be convinced before their policies shift enough to transform the “regional diplomatic environment”. And it’s not like things will get any easier has we move further into 2011. Combat will be much more difficult for US troops in Afghanistan as the winter ends and fighting escalates. Furthermore, I said I worried that the Af-Pak issue would become caught up in the 2012 pre-election hysteria, and that rhetoric might obscure what U.S. policy might actually be thereafter.
“Oh, you can count on it,” Mr. Riedel responded wryly before flashing a wide smile.