WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (APP): President Barack Obama must complement his Afghan security strategy with political plan and address Pakistan’s concerns, particularly vis-a-vis India, both in the immediate and the post-US troop pullout perspectives, top experts said discussing imperatives of an effective way forward.Sharing their evaluation of the new U.S. plan with the Council on Foreign Relations, analysts also cautioned against any unilateral moves that may spell further difficulties for Islamabad as it grapples with consequences of the eight-year old Afghan war.
Under the revamped strategy Obama unveiled early this month, Afghanistan will see a surge of 30,000 American and 7000 NATO troops in the coming months to contain Taliban insurgency and al-Qaeda threat. The summer of 2011 has been set as the milestone when the international forces will start handing over control to Afghan forces and begin the process of withdrawal.
Maleeha Lodhi, current scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center and former ambassador to the United States, observed that reliance on military means in Obama’s plan is accompanied by near silence on a political strategy.
“This assumes that a military solution can be successfully applied to Afghanistan, without addressing the political causes of the growing insurgency, especially Pashtun alienation.
“Military escalation in Afghanistan and the expansion of aerial strikes in Pakistan is dangerous for Pakistan, which is already confronted with mounting security challenges, a consequence, not a cause, of the insurgency in Afghanistan,” Dr Lodhi said.
She was referring to a wave of retaliatory bombings Pakistan is facing in the wake of its two major anti-militant operations in tribal areas this year. Obama has offered Pakistan economic and strategic partnership but wants Islamabad to spread anti-militant campaign to North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border.
In her remarks, Lodhi also feared a spillover effect of the Afghan escalation on Pakistan as militants and refugees could escape into Pakistan from across the porous border.
For their part, senior Obama Administration have visited Pakistan in recent weeks and pledged coordination in operations along the Afghan border to stem the possibility of Taliban and al-Qaeda flow into Pakistani tribal areas.
But so far, little has been pledged publicly about addressing Pakistan’s security concerns with regard to Indian role on the Afghan soil, particulalry in the post-U.S. Afghanistan. Pakistan says India
stokes violence in its southwestern Balochistan province from across the Afghan border. Experts also point to Pakistani fears that New Delhi seeks to encircle Pakistan by advancing its agenda from the Afghan soil.
“President Obama has described the partnership with Pakistan as being “inextricably linked” to success in Afghanistan. Unless this critical partner’s doubts and concerns about the new plan are allayed and Washington is prepared to modify its strategy accordingly, the relationship will only run into more problems,” Dr Lodhi cautioned.
Ahmed Rashid, a noted author and journalist stressed that “the United States needs to articulate a political strategy that draws India and Pakistan in with its plans and, despite Indian objections, puts pressure on New Delhi to be more accommodating toward Pakistan.”
At the same time, the United States should bolster support for the elected government in Pakistan, he added.
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading political analyst, remarked that “Pakistan’s concern pertains to the situation the day after the United States quits Afghanistan, perhaps the region.”
“If Afghanistan’s internal situation remains perturbed, should Pakistan seek friends from among the competing players in and around Afghanistan?” he questioned.
Islamabad, he said, will also be monitoring closely the U.S. efforts for building up governance capacity of the Kabul government and the enhancement of professional capacity of the Afghanistan National Army and the police. This also calls for overcoming sharp ethnic imbalance in the Afghan army, especially in the higher echelons, he noted.
Shuja Nawaz, Director South Asian at Washington’s Atlantic Council, opined that Pakistan could play a key role in helping fracture the Afghan Taliban alliance by persuading the Haqqani group to join the government in Kabul or send surrogates instead. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has already been reported willing to strike a deal with Karzai. That would isolate Mullah Omar and make it harder for him to go it alone against the allies, Nawaz argued.
“Today, the allies need to build the willing support of Pakistan and other regional players to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet. If they do not complete the job they began in Afghanistan, the world will be left less safe than it was when they went into the region in 2001.
“Hasan Abbas, scholar and fellow at Asia Society, also noted concerns arising out of a plan sans political strategy.
Pakistan, he said, was expecting a deal that includes guarantees that India’s security-related role in Afghanistan will be reduced.
“Unless there is some behind-the- scene understanding on this count, Pakistan may not be able to live up to Obama’s expectations. Ideally, India and Pakistan should join hands to stabilize Afghanistan, but someone needs to facilitate that kind of an arrangement. Obama has the stature, potential, and vision to play that role.”