Days before he formally unveils his report to President Barack Obama, and shares it with NATO members, Richard Holbrook, the special envoy for the region, has made it clear what awaits Pakistan in the months to come i.e. extension of the war theatre beyond FATA into Balochistan, tighter control of the Afghan-Pakistani border and linking aid to Pakistan’s willingness and actual performance in eradicating the extremist forces. Holbrooke basically hinted the US-led coalition would not hold back if targets were found anywhere in Pakistan.
Speaking to US papers and BBC, on the sidelines of Brussels Forum on March 22 and 23rd, Holbrooke alluded to some of the broad contours of the policy papers that he and Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and currently the head of an Afghan-Pakistan Review Committee, have prepared for Obama. “The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan but there are not going to be US or NATO troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan, and one which we must respect.”
In the BBC interview on March 23, Holbrook became even more specific.“ Quetta appears to be the headquarters for the leaders of the Taleban and some of the worst people in the world including Baitullah Mehsud. “As we speak, they are planning further attacks on the West and the region itself,” he said.
It is worth recalling that the US intelligence establishment has for long been talking of the “Quetta shura” of Taliban, with the Pashtoonabad residential colony being the focal point of their activities. The new strategy, Holbrooke said will attempt to bring in all the regional players – including Iran and China. The goals of Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, “ were less defined, like pluralism, prosperity or freedom,” said Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, who was briefed on the general outlines of the plan told the Christian Science Monitor in Brussels.
“Now they’re making the goals more concrete and the strategy more tactical: how long does it take, and what does it take, with more realistic expectations of all the different actors to deliver,” Jawad said.
President Obama is searching for a new strategy that will change the course of the Afghan conflict by
a) helping Afghanistan and Pakistan become self-sufficient in countering extremism
b) providing some hope that the U.S. military commitment there will eventually end,
c) gradually shifting the burden for the country’s security away from the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization over time
d) chasing and neutralizing Al Qaeda wherever its leaders find themselves – in Afghanistan or Pakistan (mark Holbrooke’s reference to Quetta and Pakistan’s western border lands
e) providing accelerated economic assistance to both countries.
The promised 17,000 U.S. troops for Afghanistan and the proposed 1.5 billion Kerry-Lugar non-military assistance bill for Pakistan also underscore the new thinking which combines the military muscle with money for achieving targets in both countries.
Another important element of the new strategy revolves around a renewed and aggressive focus on greater investment in agriculture to wean Afghanistan away from the opium poppy production that finances the Taliban insurgency. Opium is the raw ingredient in heroin. Holbrooke also stressed the need to eliminate havens for extremists in the border region.
*Pakistan** in the eye of the Storm?*
“You can’t succeed in Afghanistan if you don’t solve the problem of western Pakistan,” Holbrook told the Marshall Fund security conference in Brussels. This sentence makes abundantly clear that the new US Afghan-Pak strategy considers Pakistan as the key to the resolution of the Afghan conflict. That is most of the focus remains on Pakistan, as the CSM report suggests. “The draft plan suggests raising U.S. non-military assistance to Pakistan, especially for job creation aimed at those drawn to militant action for money, while conditioning military help on measurable cooperation against extremists in the border province of Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban has regrouped.”
Another recommendation to President Obama is to “increase intelligence- sharing among Pakistan, the U.S. and Afghanistan and boost surveillance, using U.S. technology, of the porous border at more “coordination centers” such as one opened at the crossing at Torkham, Pakistan, the administration official and diplomats said,” according to CSM.
It also quoted former US ambassador Wendy Chamberlin as saying that “Pakistan is just as threatened by extremists as we are, and it’s in their interest” for the U.S. to continue targeted attacks on insurgents by unmanned drone aircraft.”
If these broad lines of the proposed US strategy were any indicator, the United States is about to unleash a two-pronged strategy on Pakistan; based on the presumption that Al Qaeda has fanned out in Pakistan and using smaller hideouts in places like Quetta, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat and Karachi, the CIA is gradually extending its Drone-fired Hellfire missiles into areas where it finds traces of Al Qaeda. Come what may, we will take them out, reads the message.
At the same time, and for the first time, the United States seems focused on the need for Pakistan’s economic stability and political peace. American leaders – led by vice president Joseph Biden have been talking of the need of additional and adequate funding for education and critical infrastructure development to employ millions of jobless youth, and prevent them falling into the hands of militants and criminals.
In the next few months, Pakistani leadership would have to walk tight-rope because of the problems that would arise out of the Hellfire missile strikes on suspected Al Qaeda hideouts in various parts of Pakistan. They will be caught between the American carrot-and-stick on the one hand and an outraged political right on the other. A very difficult balancing act in deed that would require harmony among all the tiers of the political and the military leadership