View Full Version : Obama Afghan Plan May Founder As Local Clashes Weaken Strategy

04-23-2009, 08:50 AM
Obama Afghan Plan May Founder as Local Clashes Weaken Strategy


By Viola Gienger

April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Afghanistan and Pakistan are casting doubt on President Barack Obama’s plan to quell insurgents and stabilize their governments with help from China, India and Saudi Arabia.

Afghan and Pakistani officials say they are concerned the strategy of harnessing countries with often conflicting political and commercial interests in a “contact group” may not work. They caution that the U.S. risks entangling itself in a centuries-old arena for big-power rivalries.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, points to the “predatory” history of the area. “We should not really romanticize that we can get everyone on board to work sincerely,” he said in an interview on April 16.

Jawad’s Pakistani counterpart in Washington, Husain Haqqani, is also cautious. “Creating a new mechanism is not always a good idea if it’s going to create a new forum for debate” without solutions, the ambassador said April 21.

These doubts among the intended beneficiaries may frustrate Obama’s efforts to turn to regional players as interest in Afghanistan wanes among European NATO allies. And winning support from China, India and Persian Gulf nations as they pursue political influence, energy supplies and other strategic interests may prove difficult, analysts say.

‘Impossible’ Approach
“I’m actually very skeptical of the regional approach, not because it’s not a good idea, but because it’s virtually impossible,” said Christine Fair, a South Asia specialist at the Rand Corp., a policy-research group in Arlington, Virginia.

Obstacles include Pakistan’s suspicion that its national security is threatened by the efforts of longtime rival India to build up its influence in Afghanistan.

India also has resisted outside involvement, rejecting any such efforts to resolve its dispute with Pakistan over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Haqqani and Jawad said individual countries might better cooperate one-on-one in specific areas such as economic development or terrorism.

Asked for comment on the concerns of Afghanistan and Pakistan, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the contact group is “meant to support the existing efforts and mechanisms” for coordinating with the two nations.

“Efforts to engage our allies and regional neighbors have already begun,” Wood said in an e-mail, citing money-raising conferences for Afghanistan in the Hague on March 31 and for Pakistan in Tokyo last week.

Obama’s Plan
Obama laid out his plan for the U.S. effort to defeat al- Qaeda in the region during a March 27 speech.

“Together with the United Nations, we will forge a new contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region,” Obama said.

The idea was on Obama’s agenda in his first face-to-face meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in London earlier this month. In Beijing, Richard Holbrooke, the veteran U.S. diplomat in charge of implementing the regional strategy, conferred last week with Chinese officials.

Bruce Riedel, a White House adviser on Obama’s Afghanistan strategy review, said the administration is trying to “develop a common sense of who the enemy is.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress yesterday that she is concerned about the “existential” Taliban and al- Qaeda threat to the Pakistani government.

U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces are trying to defeat a resurgent Taliban, the radical Islamist movement that sheltered al-Qaeda in Afghanistan until its regime was ousted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Under Pressure
Next door, Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to wipe out al- Qaeda sanctuaries in a remote tribal area at a time when the Pakistani leadership is consumed with trying to prop up an economy under siege by the global financial crisis.

Pledges of $5.28 billion from countries at a Tokyo conference on April 17 will help. The U.S. and Japan gave $1 billion each, and Saudi Arabia added $700 million.

Saudi Arabia and China also could provide political muscle. Saudi Arabia, which provides about half of Pakistan’s oil imports, has attempted to broker talks between Taliban militants and the Afghan government.

The Saudi government could help by cracking down on private citizens providing support for extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, said James Dobbins, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Saudi Arabia would benefit by quelling militant forces within its own borders.

Looking for ‘Traction’
When Army General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and Central Asia, was asked about Saudi efforts on talks between Afghan officials and members of the Taliban, he said, “We’ll see if any of that has traction.”

In an April 2 interview, Petraeus went on to praise the Saudi government for “a superb job” of countering extremism at home.

China wields influence as the top investor in Afghanistan and one of Pakistan’s biggest arms suppliers.

In Afghanistan, China has undertaken projects in telecommunications, road building and water conservation, according to China’s ambassador to the U.S., Zhou Wenzhong. China is Pakistan’s biggest trading partner after the U.S. and is developing the largest foreign investment project in Afghanistan, the $4.4 billion Aynak copper mine.

“We hope Afghanistan will gradually become a peaceful, stable, developing country which will stay clear of terrorism and drugs,” Zhou said.

India, one of the biggest aid donors in Afghanistan, has fought three wars since 1947 with neighboring Pakistan. Last year, Pakistan denied allegations that a July suicide-bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul was carried out with help from Pakistan’s intelligence services.

Escalating Tension
Tensions escalated in November when 166 people died in Mumbai in attacks India blamed on Pakistan-based militants. Pakistan said in February that the operation was planned from its territory and arrests had been made.

“We can’t settle issues like Afghanistan without India’s full involvement,” Holbrooke said in New Delhi on April 8.

Pakistani security officials are concerned that separatist forces in their Baluchistan province might be getting encouragement from Indian consulates across the border in Afghanistan, former U.S. intelligence analyst Lisa Curtis told a House subcommittee on March 31.

Encirclement Concern
India could make its work in Afghanistan more transparent to ease Pakistani fears that India is trying to encircle it, said Curtis, now at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

India has contributed more than $1.5 billion of development assistance to Afghanistan, including agricultural projects and road building, India’s Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said. Calming the situation in Afghanistan will require combining security with development and governance, he said.

Asked in Washington last month about relations with Pakistan’s government, Menon emphasized the need for more action by Pakistan against extremists on its own territory.

“We would hope they would continue to do the right thing and see this through to the end,” he said.