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Smart Power in Pakistan/Afghanistan?

Inside the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill Tuesday, there were two
distinctly different hearings on Pakistan. One featured the Obama
administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke
,
and it was packed with mainstream media--standing room only. At the
conclusion of his testimony--just one floor up from that hearing--the Congressional Progressive Caucus held its fifth forum on Afghanistan, this one focusing on the administration's Pakistan strategy and how it impacts both countries.

Holbrooke faced very few tough questions--not even on drone strikes.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey did press Holbrooke on the fact that 90 percent of
the administration's war supplemental goes towards military expenses,
while the counterinsurgency strategy calls for a ratio of 80 percent
political and 20 percent military.

"Where is the place for smart power, investing in humanitarian needs and
infrastructure, economy, food, so that we can shore up the people?"
Woolsey asked.

"Smart power," Holbrooke said, "... is exactly what this bill is trying to do."

"Well, Mr. Ambassador," Woolsey said, "if the ratio to smart investment
is 1 to 10, with 10 being military investment, I don't know how we get
[there]."

"I don't think it is 1 to 10 anymore," Holbrooke said. "It was... But
this bill is one of a number of bills now in the Congress to correct
that."

The simple fact is that the funding ratio will not approach what the
counterinsurgency strategy calls for, and one senior congressional
staffer told me this: "The bottom line is that [the bill] is the same
funding, for the same military efforts, it's just coming from a State
Department account instead of DoD."

The most outspoken critic of the escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan
was Republican Congressman Ron Paul. "It just seems like we never learn
from our past mistakes," he said. "It's going to cost a lot of money
and it's going to cost a lot of lives.... And the odds of it working are
so slim.... How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we're
seen as invaders and occupiers... I'd like to know where you stand on
the killing of innocent Pashtuns...?

Holbrooke didn't answer Paul's question -- which was the ONLY question
of the hearing that (sort of) challenged the use of drones and
airstrikes
.

Instead, he said, "Afghanistan-Pakistan is not Iraq.... The reason we
are in this area is because the people in this area attacked our country
on September 11th, 2001 and have stated flatly they intend to do it
again."

Democratic Rep. David Scott asked, "What is our end game and our exit
strategy
?"

"... There's a difference between an exit strategy and an exit
timetable, and we have defined our strategy but we certainly can't out a
timetable on it," failing yet again to articulate failing yet again to articulate an
exit strategy.

It would have been smart if Holbrooke or even one person from the
mainstream media feeding frenzy had ventured upstairs to the Progressive
Caucus forum. There, the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great
Britain, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, offered this wise advice once given by
a British General who was a veteran of wars in the frontier area: "When
you invade Pashtun areas, have a good exit strategy with you, because
sooner or later you are going to need it." Having also served as the
head of two civil agencies in the tribal areas and completed a doctoral
thesis there, Ahmed has a kind of expertise and intimacy with the issues
that Holbrooke certainly doesn't.

Ahmed's frustration with both the Pakistan government and the US foreign
policy was palpable. He said Obama was "absolutely right" when he
called Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on the
Afghan border "the most dangerous place in the world today," and his
frustration stems from what he sees as a completely wrong strategy in
dealing with it.

Ahmed said the tribes in the area have a sense of history, pride and
dignity and live on both sides of the border -- "if something happens on
this side of the border, it impacts on that side" -- and they are
connected by kinship, politics and religion. "A successful strategy to
deal with them [is] not -- I repeat, not -- to take them head on...
sending troops, throwing grenades and missiles, or sending in airplanes
and tanks..... The best strategy for them [is] to work through tribal
organizations, tribal networks, tribal leadership.... [It requires] both
strength and skill -- strength alone will not do. And we see the
consequences of just a military strategy...."

Indeed the approach over the past decade has been a military one. The
result, Ahmed said, is that authority in the region once shared by
"three pillars" -- central government, tribal authority, and religious
clerics -- is now left with only the clerics who have "morphed into
Taliban."

Ahmed, said that Pakistan needs to begin by reestablishing the authority
of the state and restoring tribal authority. He said Pakistan -- with
the encouragement of the US -- is attempting to do that through military
means alone rather than through "what remains of the tribal leadership
and civil structure." He said if the state worked through the tribal
structure there would be "resistance to the Taliban, not from up 30,000
feet in the sky, right on the ground...."

Another key to success in the border region that Holbrooke didn't touch
on is reformation of the madrassas. Ahmed said much of US aid should be
earmarked for education, and half of that to the madrassas. Madrassas
are the network of education for the tribes, and if they are closed down
by the government there will be "hundreds of thousands of young men
ready to fight a religious war against the Americans." Reform through
aid, Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans serving as advisors and
teachers, new syllabi and teacher training -- these are the kinds of
steps that would bring change and long-term security.

"After 8 years of giving Pakistan money -- $17 billion or $15
billion since 9/11 -- what have you achieved?" Ahmed asked. "Had you
put 10 percent of this into
madrassas by now young men... who are [now] prepared to fight you...
would be wanting jobs and to be part of the process.... And they would
want to resist those who want to disrupt their society.... The one
thing
every Pakistani wants for his kids is education.... Within one to three
years you will turn that entire region around. The greatest enemies of
the Americans will become their allies." (Another witness -- Azhar
Hussain, of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy --
pointed out that less than 1 percent of US aid went to the FATA region
in the past 6 years.)

Finally, Ahmed spoke plainly of the drone strikes: "My advice is this...
please, please don't.... The drone strikes... are very
counterproductive." He said the former top advisor to General Petraeus
-- David Kilcullen
">David Kilcullen -- has it right. Hussain noted that there have
been 61 drone attacks "in the last few years", and only 10 have hit the
intended target. The result? 798 civilians killed and "less than about
50 insurgents."

"That is a large number of innocent people getting killed by drone
attacks," he said. "That creates an incredible amount of incitement and
rage in the Pakistani community."

As to the issue of escalation in Afghanistan, Ahmed had this to say:

"When there are more American deaths -- alas, because these young men
and women are out there serving their nation, they've got families --
when these deaths take place, what message is it sending to the
tribesman...? The message [is]: 'Guys, continue this, rally around,
because we are now on a winning streak.' And what message is it sending
to Taliban...? It's 60 miles now from Islamabad! It's saying, 'Guys,
continue doing this. The Americans can't last....' If that mood takes
hold -- don't you see how difficult it becomes for us -- talking about
recreating structures? There's no hope. You might as well hand it over
to the Taliban."

This expertise and candor--from Pakistanis who have devoted their
lives to a region we are further destabilizing with this escalation --
was sorely lacking at the Holbrooke hearing. Tell Congress to demand
what Holbrooke didn't give them--an exit strategy .

With reporting from Capitol Hill by Nation Reporter/Researcher Greg
Kaufmann


© 2017 The Nation
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine's editor since 1995.

 

Greg Kaufmann

Greg Kaufmann

Greg Kaufmann is a Contributing Writer at The Nation and a Journalist in Residence at the Roosevelt Institute. He also is the founder of TalkPoverty.org.

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