US Should Aim for an Afghanistan that is “good enough”

Richard HaassImage via Wikipedia Richard N. Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations over at a Senate hearing on Afghanistan talks about the Af/Pak problem bundled together in a messy knot: 

The Afghan-Pakistan tie is at the heart of U.S. policy and its limits. There is no way the United States will be able to persuade Pakistan to become a full partner in Afghanistan (and stop providing sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban) given Islamabad’s obsession with India and its view of Afghanistan as a critical source of strategic depth in its struggle with India. Even a solution to the Kashmir conflict would not change this – and there is no solution to Kashmir in the offing, certainly not in a time frame that would prove relevant to U.S. decision-making for Afghanistan.

At the macro or global level, Afghanistan is simply absorbing more economic, military, human, diplomatic, and political resources of every sort than it warrants. The $110-$120 billion annual price tag – one out of every six to seven dollars this country spends on defense – is unjustifiable given the budget crisis we face and the need for military (especially air and naval) modernization. The history of the 21st century is far more likely to be determined in the land areas and waters of Asia and the Pacific than it is on the plains and in the mountains of Afghanistan. We had also better be prepared for a number of future counterterrorist interventions (along the lines of Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen) in Libya and elsewhere in the Greater Middle East and Africa. We also need to make sure we have adequate forces for possible contingencies on the Korean Peninsula and conceivably with Iran. Afghanistan is a strategic distraction, pure and simple. Secretary of Defense Gates’s recent West Point speech makes a case for avoiding sending a large American land force into places like Afghanistan. I agree. But less clear is why we should continue to deploy a large number of soldiers there for the present and near future.
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Strategy is about balancing means and ends, resources and interests, and the time has come to restore strategic perspective to what the United States is doing in Afghanistan.
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We should not kid ourselves, though: there is unlikely to be a rosy future for Afghanistan any time soon. The most likely future for the next few years and possibly beyond is some form of a messy stalemate, an Afghanistan characterized by a mix of a weak central government, strong local officials, and a Taliban presence (supported out of Pakistan) that is extensive in much of the Pashtun-dominated south and east of the country. Resolution of the ongoing conflict by either military or diplomatic means is highly unlikely and not a realistic basis for U.S. policy. Walking away from Afghanistan, however, is not the answer. Instead, this country should sharply scale back what it is doing and what it seeks to accomplish, and aim for an Afghanistan that is “good enough” in light of local realities, limited interests, and the broad range of both domestic and global challenges facing the United States.

Read in full here.


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Snapshot: State Dept’s Largest Geographic Bureau and Its "Difficult" Headaches

The OIG recently published online its review of the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. Some interesting items:
  • EUR is the largest geographic bureau in the Department of State (Department), with 322 direct-hire and 40 contractor employees domestically, and 1,863 U.S. direct-hire and approximately 10,000 locally employed staff positions overseas, in 50 missions and 29 constituent posts.
  • Total FY 2010 budget resources (domestic and overseas) for EUR are just under $604 million (excluding salaries for direct-hire Americans and foreign assistance). In addition to a geographic focus that stretches from Greenland to Vladivostok, EUR also operates as a de facto functional bureau in several specific areas of responsibility.
  • Led by an Assistant Secretary, a principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) and six DASes, EUR’s 17 offices oversee and support the work of 80 posts, accredited to 47 countries and four multilateral organizations. The bureau also supports the work of four special envoys.
  • At the present time, 25 of the 45 ambassadors at EUR’s 50 overseas posts are political appointees. (Five EUR posts are currently without ambassadors.) While most ambassadors perform admirably, the front office, office directors, and desk officers spend an inordinate amount of time handling issues related to a small number of “difficult” noncareer ambassadors. This has been a drain on human and resource capital, both at the posts concerned and in the bureau.
  • HR’s FY 2010 target for linked Afghanistan-Iraq-Pakistan assignments is 170. As in past years, the human resources division will fully comply with the Department’s linked assignments policy. Historically, EUR accounts for approximately 20 to 25 percent of all linked assignments, so it can expect to have between 34 and 42 of these assignments in the 2011 open assignments cycle.
  • Unlike in prior years, however, EUR is prepared to refuse linked assignments to a specific mission this year, once it can be demonstrated that the mission has done its fair share.
Source:State Department/EUR

Related item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-22 – Inspection of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs – March 2011

Osama Bin Laden’s Death: The Views From Pakistan

Map of PakistanImage by Omer Wazir via Flickr

If you’ve been following the coverage of Bin Laden’s raid, you might want to check out Jack Shafer‘s ‘How to Read the Bin Laden Coverage’ at Slate. 
And from overseas, I have collected the following reactions mostly from Pakistani newspapers and a couple from CBS and NYT:

The Nation| American Troops Kill Osama

Osama bin Laden was killed in an early Monday morning operation carried out by 35 US Marines. About 200 Pakistan Army men provided ground support, top level official sources told The Nation. During the operation, four helicopters of the Pakistan Army hovered over the fortress-like hideout of al-Qaeda chief at Thanda Choh, a relatively isolated area of Abbottabad’s otherwise posh locality Bilal Town that is barely a kilometre away from the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. After completing aerial assessments, the four Pakistan Army helicopters were replaced by two US helicopters, ten minutes later. Initially, the US military personnel opened fire at the outer wall of Osama’s hideout, which was retaliated by the house inmates with heavy gunfire. After almost twenty minutes of cross-firing, the US forces directly targeted the house with sophisticated bombs, eventually killing Osama, his eight bodyguards, seven close aides and an unspecified number of family members including a young son, children and two wives.
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Meanwhile, Sahir Elahi, an eyewitness who lives a few yards from the place where the operation took place, doubted if any helicopter had crashed. “We were the first to reach the spot – by that time the security forces had not cordoned off the area. The wreckage of any helicopter was nowhere to be seen. I think it was a bomb that was dropped by the US forces,” he said.  “It was like Dooms Day, we heard heavy explosions that shook us. It was followed by heavy gunfire and similar explosions; we couldn’t sleep till dawn,” he added.



The Dawn |
The Truth Will Out by Kamran Shafi

[W]e are being told to believe that no one in Pakistan, not the Hazara police, not the IB, not the ISI, not MI, had the slightest idea just who lived in that absurd house located not far from the Pakistan Military Academy where officer cadets, the future leaders of the Pakistan Army, are trained. (Incidentally, where, not a week ago, the COAS asserted that the army had broken the back of the terrorists!) Indeed, one should have thought that a cantonment with not only this academy but three regimental centres which train recruits and turn them into soldiers should have been a most sensitive station. I can only say if they didn’t know, why didn’t they know? The truth will out one day.
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We should be aware that Osama being run to ground in Abbottabad will heighten American suspicions of us, regardless of what we might say. We should also take very serious note of what American leaders are saying about us. While some people might be right in characterising congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s saying we have been playing the Americans for suckers as the view of just one conservative, we must recall Secretary Clinton saying: “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.”

Truth will out, only this time it will bring great peril to us if we don’t shape up.

The Daily Times | Editorial

Pakistan has found itself in quite the embarrassing situation. Osama bin Laden was found in a military town just a mile or so away from the Kakul Military Academy. How he was able to hide there without any action on our part is going to be a hard sell to the Americans. So far, we have been milking the same excuse: joint intelligence and a willingness on our part in counter-terror operations led to this victory. Scratching beneath the surface may reveal other truths entirely. Whilst we have been allies of the US, we have been very trying partners, picking and choosing the militants we wanted to root out and the ones we wanted to protect. No doubt, in the coming days, Pakistan’s exact role in the war on terror and Osama’s death will become clearer. It is hoped we will not be on the receiving end of a negative fallout with the Americans, who are in this war for the long haul.

The News International | Editorial

Bin Laden, and it appears that at least two other persons including a woman, were killed in what the US says was a gun-fight, as helicopters swooped towards the palatial house where he, his guards and some family members apparently lived. This estate stood not in some remote, mountain valley but in a peaceful Abbotabad suburb, only kilometres away from the Kakul Military Academy. The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world’s most wanted man here is shocking – though there is still a lack of clarity as to what role, if any, our security and intelligence apparatus played in the whole affair. It is hard to believe that foreign aircraft could have flown so deep into our territory undetected and unanticipated.
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For Islamabad, the whole business is something of an embarrassment. Despite years of fervent denial, Bin Laden has been found on Pakistani soil. And now that the brazen US action in Abbotabad has happened, there may be other attempts to go after key militant figures in different urban centres. The thought is not a comforting one, considered in light of its implications for national sovereignty. Security has been stepped up at US consular buildings and in all cities. There have been reports of sporadic protests – but it is not known if these will expand. A lot may depend on how the operation and Pakistan’s role in it are perceived.

Pakistan Today | Hundreds join first rally to honour Osama

QUETTA –  Hundreds took to the streets of Quetta on Monday to pay homage to Osama Bin Laden, chanting death to America and setting fire to a US flag, witnesses and organisers said. Angry participants belonging to a religious party in Quetta, were led by federal lawmaker Maulawi Asmatullah. They also torched a US flag before dispersing peacefully.

It was the first rally in Pakistan after the United States announced that Bin Laden had been killed in an overnight commando mission in Pakistan. Organisers said between 1,000 and 1,200 people attended the rally, but witnesses put the figure closer to 800. “Bin Laden was the hero of the Muslim world and after his martyrdom he has won the title of great mujahed (Muslim fighter),” Asmatullah said.

The Washington Post | Pakistan did its part by President Asif Ali Zardari

Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn’t reflect fact. Pakistan had as much reason to despise al-Qaeda as any nation. The war on terrorism is as much Pakistan’s war as as it is America’s. And though it may have started with bin Laden, the forces of modernity and moderation remain under serious threat.
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Only hours after bin Laden’s death, the Taliban reacted by blaming the government of Pakistan and calling for retribution against its leaders, and specifically against me as the nation’s president. We will not be intimidated. Pakistan has never been and never will be the hotbed of fanaticism that is often described by the media.

Those 200 men — it must have been quite a battle! It’s a good thing top level official sources went unnamed or that would have been some crow to eat with a dash of salt.  

The NYT quotes a retired Pakistani general today, also unnamed, btw: “It’s a double embarrassment,” said a retired general.

“They didn’t know Bin Laden was there, or knew and didn’t act. And then the Americans came, got him, and went.”

Well, it seems to me that there are two-three choices for the Pakistani Government at this time, and all of them bad from their side of the window. 1) Admit that they did not know Bin Laden was living inside their country for years, which would make us all think their intel service is incompetent at best, a joke at worst. (Frankly, I don’t know which is the least complimentary moniker in the gambling table, incompetent or double-face dealer?); 2) Conduct an investigation on OBL’s Pakistani protectors, which could result on investigators being targeted by Bin Laden’s groupies and more Pakistanis killed by ultra-extremists groups within the country. 3) Just do a Musharraf, the louder, the better, too:

“American troops coming across the border and taking action in one of our towns, that is Abbottabad, is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan. It is a violation of our sovereignty.”

In a CBS interview with Mr. Musharraf, Lara Logan asked the former President of Pakistan:

“Do you know of any other terrorist leaders wanted by the U.S. that are sheltering in your country?” Musharraf responded, “Well, there may be more. Yes, there may be. Yes.”

So since we are apparently fighting the same enemies, they could hunt the rest of the folks in the most wanted list, before the Americans go get them, right? 

In the same interview, Mr. Musharraf was also asked: “It’s just very hard to believe that Osama bin Laden could have spent all this time in Pakistan, living right under your noses and nobody would have known about it?”

Musharraf: “Why you continuously saying that? I think instead of wasting time on this issue, let us agree to disagree on this point. I don’t agree.”

NYT has an update on this today:  The Pakistani government lashed out at the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, saying Tuesday that the United States had made “an unauthorized unilateral action” that would be not be tolerated in the future. Using tough language, a statement by the Foreign Office said “such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the United States.”
     

But … but it’s not like Candidate Obama did not give out fair and clear warning in 2007.