A think-tank closely tied to U.S. President-elect
Barack Obama is calling for a "dramatic strategic shift" in Washington's
policy toward Pakistan, one designed to both strengthen civilian institutions
and promote an effective counter-insurgency against al-Qaeda and indigenous
Islamist extremists in the tribal areas along the Afghan border who increasingly
threaten the country's stability.
In a report
[.pdf] released Monday, the Center for American Progress (CAP) is also urging
Washington to pursue its goals in Pakistan as part of a broader multilateral
effort and a regional strategy designed to address Islamabad's security concerns
with Afghanistan and India.
"The United States needs to make a shift from a reactive, transactional,
short-term approach that is narrowly focused on bilateral efforts," according
to the 71-page report, "Partnership for Progress."
"Instead, a more proactive, long-term strategy should seek to advance
stability and prosperity inside Pakistan through a multilateral, regional approach,"
it argued, adding that Pakistan "will pose one of the greatest foreign
policy challenges for the incoming Obama administration."
The report, the product of a year-long study that included consultations with
a U.S.-Pakistan Working Group consisting of 33 of Washington's top Pakistan
specialists, is likely to be regarded as a bellwether for where the Obama administration
will take U.S. policy.
John Podesta, White House chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton
and CAP's president and CEO since its founding in 2001, has headed Obama's
presidential transition team since long before the election, and at least two
of the report's four co-authors CAP's Brian Katulis, a Middle East and
South Asia specialist, and Lawrence Korb, a senior Pentagon official under
Ronald Reagan are likely to get senior posts in the new administration.
And while the report itself represented only the views of its co-authors,
a large number of Working Group members, such as Vice President-elect Joseph
Biden's top South Asia staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jonah
Blank, and former Clinton National Security Council aide Bruce Riedel, have
been among the Obama campaign's key advisers on the region.
The report comes amid palpably growing concern about the situation in both
Afghanistan and Pakistan where what the report calls a "strengthening,
multi-headed adaptive network of extremists comprised of the Taliban, al-Qaeda,
and affiliated indigenous militant groups" has made unprecedented gains
seven years after they were evicted from Afghanistan by U.S. air power and
the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.
Since then, Washington has spent more than $11 billion on aid to Islamabad,
almost all of which went to the Pakistani army, in hopes that the military-led
government of former President Pervez Musharraf would fully cooperate with
U.S. efforts to prevent the Taliban and other radical groups from returning
But not only have the Taliban and its allies made a strong comeback in Afghanistan
over the past two years in part due to the safe havens they have enjoyed
in the tribal regions on the Pakistani side of the border but their
brand of radicalism has spread outward from the Federally Administered Tribal
Areas (FATA), where al-Qaeda's leadership is believed to be based, into the
Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and beyond even into Punjab and other parts
of Pakistan's heartland.
Adding to concerns over the nuclear-armed country's stability is the state
of its economy. Even before the financial crisis that hit world credit markets
in mid-September, Pakistan's economy was suffering serious inflation that put
food and fuel prices beyond the reach of many Pakistanis, provoking street
protests and riots in some cities.
With rapidly depleting foreign reserves, the government headed by President
Asif Ali Zardari was forced just last weekend to agree to a two-year, $7.6
billion loan by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Conditions for the loan
are likely to include reductions in government subsidies on basic commodities
that could, in turn, provoke greater unrest and an even greater boost for radical
As bad as the current situation looks, however, the CAP report noted a series
of favorable developments that could help redress the situation, beginning
with the fact that, unlike the Musharraf regime, the new government
the product of democratic elections last February is seen as legitimate
by most Pakistanis and thus has "a greater potential for representing
and mobilizing Pakistan's population toward fighting militancy and strengthening
its governmental institutions."
Similarly, the advent of a new U.S. administration headed by Obama could reduce
some of the strains created by the administration of President George W. Bush
whose strong backing for Musharraf made him deeply unpopular in Pakistan, according
to polls taken over the past two years.
In addition, other countries appear more inclined to help Pakistan deal with
its economic problems, according to the report. The Friends of Pakistan Group,
which consists of the European Union (EU), the United Nations, China, Saudi
Arabia, Japan, Canada, Turkey, Australia, the U.S., and the United Arab Emirates
(UAE) which hosted the Group's meeting in Abu Dhabi Monday appears poised
to offer additional assistance.
That willingness extends even to the U.S. Congress, which is likely to take
up a bipartisan proposal introduced earlier this year by Biden and co-sponsored
by Obama to provide $7.5 billion in economic and development aid to Pakistan
over the next five years.
"This legislation lays the groundwork for a new strategy in which the
United States seeks a partnership with the people of Pakistan and not just
a military expected to cooperate with American security aims," the report
In addition to providing much more non-military aid, the report calls for
Washington to recognize the limitations of its influence in Pakistan and move
toward a multilateral approach, a direction which the Bush administration has
already begun to take through the Friends Group and other initiatives.
"At this point in time, Pakistan's perceptions of the United States are
so dismal that efforts to pursue change in Pakistan with the United States
in the lead may automatically discredit the effort," according to the
Military aid should also continue but be channeled through civilian institutions,
according to the report, which stressed that Washington should be as transparent
as possible about the aid it provides.
Washington will also have to strike a balance between short-term measures
such as its increasingly frequent air strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban
targets on Pakistani soil and its long-term goal of enhancing the credibility
and effectiveness of Pakistan's civilian leadership and institutions.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the U.S. and Islamabad reached
a "tacit agreement in September on a don't-ask-don't-tell policy that
allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets"
in the border area. Under that understanding, the U.S. government would not
comment on such attacks while Islamabad will be expected to complain about
them. The agreement followed a cross-border attack by U.S. Special Forces that
drew especially harsh criticism from the Pakistani government and army.
(Inter Press Service)