Senate testimony worth reading

Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation, is one of several people whose testimony on Afghanistan the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has heard in recent weeks, but his is the testimony I found most worth reading. He’s proposing solutions, not just pointing out difficulties. His focus is on the effect our strategy in Afghanistan will have on the thinking of the Pakistani security apparatus, and how their policies will in turn effect Afghanistan. An excerpt:

If the United States undertakes a heavily militarized, increasingly unilateral policy in Afghanistan, whether in the name of “counterinsurgency,” “counterterrorism,” or some other abstract Western doctrine, without also adopting an aggressive political, reconciliation and diplomatic strategy that more effectively incorporates Pakistan into efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, then it will also reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment that they need the Taliban as a hedge against the U.S. and India.

The whole thing is fairly short and you can read it here. Unfortunately, Coll doesn’t address my other major question about the way our commitment to Afghanistan motivates political choices by local actors. If a credible long-term commitment makes Pakistan more likely to behave in constructive fashion, doesn’t the same commitment take the pressure off Karzai to deliver on his promises of reform, etc.? Matthew Yglesias makes that argument here; Spencer Ackerman took a stab at solving this problem by suggesting that we make robust commitments to Pakistan, but conditional commitments to Afghanistan–the idea being that Karzai will be more likely to govern well with the threat of American withdrawal hanging over his head. But Coll seems to say that our credibility in Pakistan’s eyes depends on our stake in Afghanistan’s future. So where does that leave us?


9 responses to “Senate testimony worth reading

  1. I cannot spend much time online. Drat. But I note that Coll does mention India in the discussion of Afghanistan. The tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and the working relationships between Afghanistan and India (the new road to the border in the Southwest for example), to me indicate the need for peace between India and Pakistan, before the ISI cease corrupting Afghanistan.
    He does not mention Iran, which surely must be the gorilla in the room, possibly asleep. I do not see that Iran needs a nuclear bomb for much of anything, except show, since they have oil, and the US is in a oil-drugged stupor.

  2. Another contradiction is that our Muslim allies, Turkey and Pakistan, are deeply involved in heroin. Saudi Arabia’s role is not highlighted, except by Sibel Edmonds, and the heroin warehouses have been removed from US military targets. The British, who are in Helmand, presumably because 10% of the Afghanistan’s heroin goes to Great Britain, at least have their interests in mind, but the US is quiet. The role of drugs and the CIA is possibly too traditional and ingrained to be changed by necessity.

  3. re: “The lightly resourced, complacent U.S. approach to Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in late 2001 effectively chased Islamist insurgents into Pakistan, contributing to its destabilization.”
    This comment seems both great and bad. The bad is that the Taliban were sponsored by Pakistan from the start, so “chasing” those still alive “into Pakistan” is not Franks’s fault, although letting Osama get away is. I assume that the ISI had Osama screen savers before Masood’s death, and that the Taliban is largely an ISI front group by now.

  4. Re Coll’s comments on Musharraf –
    Isn’t Musharraf’s complicity in the assassination of Bhutto of the same cut as the treachery in Afghanistan?

  5. Good post. I hope to read it all more calmly and with reflection. Re Karzai
    “If a credible long-term commitment makes Pakistan more likely to behave in constructive fashion, doesn’t the same commitment take the pressure off Karzai to deliver on his promises of reform, etc.?”
    Karzai has had years and years. Either he cannot do it, or worse, does not want to. The stolen election is no reason for him to stay.

  6. I see Coll also testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week.

  7. re: “effectively chased Islamist insurgents into Pakistan, contributing to its destabilization.”
    Problem: The November 15th airlift from Konduz to Pakistan taking thousands? of ISI, AlQueda, Taliban? into Pakistan. They were airlifted into Pakistan, and with the complicity of Cheney.
    “Descent in Chaos”, Rashid, page 90.

  8. Coll’s first argument, that the wars in Afghanistan have interfered with Pakistan’s move towards an open society, seems false to me. Pakistan has freely chosen to be involved in those conflicts, for it’s own reasons – India.

  9. I read all of Steve Coll’s senate testimony, and I did not find it very enlightening. He starts with a one-sided history of the wars in Afghanistan, leaving out Pakistan’s role. Then he characterizes the society of Pakistan as diverse and paranoid, worried that the US may abandon the region, yet united in their hatred and mistrust of us. Then he advises a long term commitment to the region, without going beyond platitudes to spell out what actions might be acceptable or productive.

    At the same time, he omits the factor of heroin in his analysis.
    He omits that the western mountains that might serve as a defense fortress against an Indian invasion are not under the control of Islamabad, nor does the central government seem to be interested in establishing friendly relations with that area for some reason.
    He did not shed light on why Kashmir is seen as critical, although East Pakistan has not proved to be.

    I think a more useful testimony would have been to note that eight years of bungling, not to mention eighteen, indicate that we can safely set aside the tactical policy of aligning with gunmen.

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