For Holbrooke, Situation in Pakistan, Afghanistan Is 'Dim and Dismal': Bruce Riedel
Interviewee: Bruce O. Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, Council on Foreign Relations
Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on South Asia, who has worked for the CIA, Pentagon, and National Security Council, says new special envoy Richard Holbrooke inherits a "dim and dismal" situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is needed, he says, is for Holbrooke to reverse the negative momentum in both countries. He says the Taliban's military successes in Afghanistan have to be reversed, and Pakistan must help close their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory. But Riedel says "trying to get that cooperation out of the Pakistani government in my judgment will be the single hardest test that Ambassador Holbrooke faces and in fact may be the single hardest foreign policy challenge President Obama faces."
With Richard Holbrooke being named the new special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, what's going on in that part of the world? When Asif Ali Zardari, the new president of Pakistan, was inaugurated last year, he invited Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the inauguration. Is there better coordination between the two countries?
The good news is that the relationship between President Zardari and President Karzai is a fairly good one, and the two of them are comfortable working with each other. That has yet to translate, though, into a real productive relationship along the border. It's an opening, certainly, that we should exploit. The inheritance that Ambassador Holbrooke gets, though, on the whole is pretty dim and dismal. The war in Afghanistan is going badly, the southern half of the country is increasingly in chaos, and the Taliban is encroaching more and more frequently into Kabul and the surrounding provinces. And in Pakistan, the jihadist Frankenstein monster that was created by the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence service is now increasingly turning on its creators. It's trying to take over the laboratory.
Does the Pakistani military have a strategy for the FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] along the borders with Afghanistan?
It's of two minds about the FATA. On the one hand, it has always used the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as the place where it could create groups like the Taliban, or encourage the development of the Taliban, where it could train people to operate in Kashmir or to operate in India. But now that it sees that it's losing control of that area, it's increasingly concerned about the future. Unfortunately, the Pakistani army is not very well prepared either in training or in equipment for the kind of counterinsurgency warfare that needs to be fought in the badlands along the Afghan border. And here is another opening for the United States to offer to Pakistan the kinds of counterinsurgency training and doctrine and the kinds of equipment that would be useful in this war. Helicopters in particular. The Bush administration gave Pakistan about a dozen helicopters. What they really need is several hundred to operate in this very difficult terrain where air mobility is really the key to battlefield success.
And is there a lot of talk about the U.S. Predator attacks on supposedly al-Qaeda targets in that area? Is there an implicit agreement that these attacks should go ahead even as Pakistan protests?
I don't know what the discussions between Washington and Islamabad have been over that. These Predator attacks have scored some important successes. Significant al-Qaeda figures have been killed. But they also have a counterproductive element to them, which is that they further the alienation of the Pakistani people away from us. One of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest challenge we face in Pakistan today, is that the American brand image has been badly eroded. Polling in Pakistan shows that a majority of Pakistanis blame America for the country's internal violence. India comes in second place, and al-Qaeda and the militancy comes in third place. Any time that you are outpolling India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you're in deep, deep trouble.
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