- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Obama administration’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, now collectively called AFG/PAK, specifically focuses on disrupting and defeating the principal danger of al Qaeda. That strategy will increase U.S. forces by 21,000 for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and apply greater effort on the civil side for development and reconstruction in both countries.

I believe this strategy, however, contains several flaws that must be corrected if success is to be achieved.

First, the threat extends beyond al Qaeda. Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and other extremists are out to topple the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. Al Qaeda can be eliminated and these dangers still will pose existential threats to both countries.

Second, Pakistan is the true strategic center of gravity in this two-front war. Unless the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) are cleansed of the insurgencies and their root causes, success in Afghanistan cannot be achieved because the porous and ill-defined border offers too much unfettered access and sanctuary.

Third, if the dangers are as real as President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. believe, and I agree with that assessment, we have terribly underresourced this effort. In the current financial and economic crises, the collapse of AIG, for example, was deemed as ruinous to the system. So far, the U.S. has pumped $170 billion into AIG. If the collapse of Afghanistan or Pakistan holds similar consequences for regional and global stability, then more money must be available to prevent that implosion.

By its own admission, Pakistan faces simultaneous security and economic crises of existential proportion. A report issued by the Atlantic Council earlier this year co-chaired by Sens. Chuck Hagel and John Kerry concluded that Pakistan could overcome these dual crises without the need for our troops. Five billion dollars to $6 billion a year for several years above what is currently in the pipeline would redress the economic and security crises.

The bulk would go to repairing an economy reeling over critical shortages of food, energy and water. The remaining amount would go to the army and to recruiting and training 15,000 additional police a year to secure territory once cleared by the army in FATA and the NWFP. Pakistan has the people and the infrastructure for this. Pakistan simply lacks the money to pay for and support this initiative.

Unfortunately, the $10 billion in coalition funding intended for the Pakistan army over the last decade went to the Finance Ministry to fill holes in the economy. The army received less than a third — a reality that does not go down well in Congress. Hence, the army is still in vital need of equipment to end an insurgency rather than fighting India.

NATO has bet its future on Afghanistan. A second Atlantic Council report released last year warned: “Make no mistake. NATO is not winning in Afghanistan.” The reason was the inability to secure that country, given the limited security forces at hand.

Afghanistan is not Iraq, where some 700,000 to 800,000 forces of all stripes maintain a measure of security in a country that is much smaller in size and population than Afghanistan. Neither we, NATO nor Afghanistan will be able to field the necessary security forces to guarantee stability for the foreseeable future. And, as history records, Afghanistan has been a graveyard for foreign forces.

But to succeed in Pakistan, the gaping trust deficit between America and Pakistan must also be closed. Many Americans believe that the Pakistani army sees India and not the insurgency as the true threat. Others see Pakistan’s Interservices Intelligence (ISI) as a rogue agency uncontrollable or uncontrolled by the civilian government. And the government of President Asif Zardari is viewed as weak and fragile.

Pakistanis are not convinced of America’s staying power, given the unhappy history of embrace and rejection. Sanctions over Pakistan’s nuclear programs and A.Q. Khan’s role in selling technology to America’s adversaries, along with tariffs on textiles, continue to anger Pakistanis. And Predator attacks by the U.S. in FATA and the NWFP enflame the public.

With the proper oversight, accountability and the willingness to overcome this trust deficit, money becomes the principal instrument for success in Pakistan, which will lead to success in Afghanistan. The strategy is to turn Pakistan’s economy around; provide the army with weapons, related systems and development money to defeat the insurgency in the rugged Hindu Kush; persuade India to assure Pakistan that it is no longer an existential threat; and achieve closer coordination among Pakistani, NATO and Afghan forces on the border.

In Afghanistan, counterinsurgency operations can work realizing that further troop additions will increase casualties and likely reinforce Afghan resistance to foreign intervention. Dialogue with the tribal and ethnic structures, as well as various shades of “Taliban,” could reduce some of the violence. If we are serious about job creation, then focus explicitly on effective agricultural plans and rebuilding the once extensive irrigation system destroyed by the Soviets and then the Taliban is crucial. And if the drug problem is to be tackled, licit purchases that worked in India, Thailand and Turkey must be examined.

The collective “we” can and must defeat these threats to our ways of life. Getting the right strategy is step one. Then, having the courage and stamina to carry that strategy out will determine success or failure.

Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and a frequent visitor to Pakistan.

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