National Security Network

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amidst Delicate Progress, Serious Challenges Remain

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Report 29 April 2010

Afghanistan Afghanistan Pakistan Pentagon


When President Obama addressed the nation to announce his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he recognized the "fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan."  Six months later, developments within the two countries remain closely intertwined, with major consequences for U.S. strategy in the region.  Tempting as it may be to seize on specific developments, in order to best assess U.S. regional policy, the broader trends must be examined.  In Pakistan, there are hopeful signs.  The Obama administration has revamped U.S. - Pakistan relations, moving American interests forward after years of neglect by the previous administration. However, as a new Pentagon report highlights, the situation in Afghanistan remains challenging.  After years in which the situation foundered due to scant attention and resources, the U.S., together with its international and Afghan partners, has struggled to contain a powerful insurgency despite the redoubled efforts by the Obama administration to stabilize the country.  

Looking ahead, the Obama administration still faces the challenge of bringing its policies on both Afghanistan and Pakistan into greater accord, as it continues to  focus on the objective of "disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies."

Delicate, but meaningful progress made on U.S. - Pakistan relations. In the Washington Post today, Karen DeYoung reports on the scheduled arrival of security assistance to make a larger point about the progress being made in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.  Citing the arrival of 50 additional U.S. military personnel to Pakistan - an increase of 25% - in June, along with four new F-16 fighter jets, DeYoung goes on to write: "Progress in bilateral relations culminated with last month's meeting between senior Pakistani cabinet and military officials in Washington. Although it did not eliminate problems and mistrust, it does appear to have achieved a new degree of mutual candor and tolerance."  However, DeYoung cautions that "Pakistan's military and intelligence services remain highly suspicious about the motives and methods of their U.S. counterparts, a wariness mirrored in American attitudes toward Pakistan."

Shortly following the bilateral summit mentioned by DeYoung, The Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams discussed the foundations of progress in this complicated relationship, which extends beyond pure military assistance. "Dangerous global security threats persist in Pakistan, but the Obama administration has put U.S. national security on more solid footing in Pakistan through an assertive and integrated national security approach to meeting multiple threats there. Three years ago in 2007 Pakistan was descending into chaos in part due to neglect and the Bush administration's misguided approach, which was distracted in the trenches of Iraq. But the Obama administration has embarked on a comprehensive approach to Pakistan that has shifted dynamics to make America safer in a strategy centered on three main pillars: 1. A more aggressive counterterrorism strategy... 2. A more effective aid program... 3. A more comprehensive regional strategy." [Washington Post, 4/29/10. Center for American Progress, 3/24/10]

Pentagon report finds troubling indicators for U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. A Pentagon report released yesterday paints a gloomy picture of the situation in Afghanistan, underscoring the difficulties facing U.S. and NATO forces working to reverse the successes of the Taliban-led insurgency there.  According to the Los Angeles Times, "The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country's Western-backed government."  While there were some positive elements within the report, including a survey finding a majority of Afghans feeling that the Afghan government was headed in the right direction, and the finding that U.S. operations have had a demoralizing effect on the insurgency, serious challenges exist. 

Taliban re-infiltrates cleared territory: "U.S.-led military operations have had ‘some success in clearing insurgents from their strongholds, particularly in central Helmand,' the report said. But it adds: ‘The insurgent tactic of re-infiltrating the cleared areas to perform executions has played a role in dissuading locals from siding with the Afghan government, which has complicated efforts to introduce local governance.'"  [LA Times, 4/29/10]

Afghans still sympathetic to insurgency:  "The Afghan government can count on popular support only in a quarter of the main urban areas and other districts that are considered key to winning the war with the Taliban and other insurgents."  [Washington Post, 4/29/10]

Indicators of shadow government on the rise: "Taliban shadow governments, which can include courts and basic social services, have strengthened, undermining the authority of the Afghan government." [LA Times, 4/29/10]

Uptick in violence: "‘The level of violence has gone up in our judgment because we have more forces confronting the Taliban in more areas,' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. There are currently about 87,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a number expected to rise to 98,000 by the end of August." [LA Times, 4/29/10]

[LA Times, 4/29/10. WSJ, 4/28/10]

For U.S. strategy in the region to be successful, there must be progress on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  In his December 2009 speech at West Point, President Obama said that "we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan."  Close to six months later, the U.S. has achieved meaningful progress in Pakistan, even as across the border in Afghanistan, difficulties continue to mount. Ultimately, if American policy in the region is to be a success, trends in both countries must align in a positive direction.  In Pakistan, the U.S. should continue to build on the progress it has made in bringing about a more honest, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationship with the Pakistan government and people.

In neighboring Afghanistan, the challenges are more daunting. There, the viability of the Administration's approach will hinge on whether it can create the conditions for Afghans to govern themselves, setting up a transition to a U.S.-Afghan partnership that will endure without a military presence.  If the Taliban's progress cited in the Pentagon's most recent report is to be its high-water mark, then the Administration must shore up the lagging elements of its strategy, attending especially to the governance concerns expressed by a sizeable number of Afghans. 

As National Security Network Senior Advisor Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.) stated, reaching America's core goals rests on, "a description of an end-game to our direct military involvement in the region is essential," without which, "continued drift is the only outcome."  Marc Lynch made a similar remark, saying that the best way "to help this strategy to succeed is to keep a sharp focus on the proposed mechanisms of change, demanding evidence that they are actually happening, and to hold the administration to its pledges to maintaining a clear time horizon and to avoiding the iron logic of serial escalations of a failing enterprise." [President Obama, 12/01/10. LA Times, 4/29/10. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), 12/1/09. Marc Lynch, 12/02/09]

What We're Reading

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously stalled negotiations on bailing out Greece, is now pushing for a package, citing the need to maintain the strength of the Euro.

State-mandated blackouts-the result of years of economic mismanagement-are crippling the Venezuelan economy, and challenging President Hugo Chávez and his socialist experiment.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to attend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which begins Monday.

Thailand's long-silent Yellow Shirt activists demanded military action against anti-government Red Shirt protesters and an end to "anarchy" in the capital, one day after clashes turned a busy expressway into a deadly battle zone.

According to Pakistani officials, Pakistan Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud wasn't killed in a U.S. drone strike earlier this year as previously suspected by the government.

The South Korean military vowed revenge, but fell short of blaming North Korea by name, as the country gave an emotional farewell to the sailors killed when their ship sank last month near a disputed sea border with the North.

Nigeria's Acting President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the country's elections chief to step down immediately, following concern that polls next year would not be credible under his leadership.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown needs a show-stopping performance in today's election debate to offset a blaze of bad publicity after he called a supporter of his Labour Party "bigoted."

In Egypt, the government usually negotiates with protesting workers, hoping to confine their demands to pocketbook issues, but there are signs that the government's patience is wearing thin.

The Coast Guard and BP set fire to a portion of the crude oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to limit the impact of a widening slick, which federal officials said could touch shore in parts of the Louisiana delta as early as Friday evening.

Commentary of the Day

Jimmy Carter writes that the Sudanese elections, the first real elections in 24 years, fulfilled an important step on the way to full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.          

Tariq Alhomayed explores the dilemma that could come in June if the U.S. tries to pass more sanctions on Iran during the Lebanese presidency of the UN Security Council.

The New York Times editorial board says that the efforts to manipulate the results of Iraq's largely free and fair election are an insult to Iraqi voters and a dangerous game to play with the country's stability.


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