Saturday, November 13, 2010

Panel adds India to Af-Pak equation

If things don't start getting better soon in Afghanistan, the United States should consider pulling out more troops, says a "blue-ribbon" bipartisan panel in a Council on Foreign Relations report out Friday. Other suggested actions include drone strikes on Pakistan-supported anti-India militants.

US officials were quick to insist the better funded strategies currently in effect are working and will work, yet the panel members appeared pessimistic about those chances and called for the Obama Administration to make a decisive move in December:

the Obama administration’s upcoming December 2010 review should be “a clear-eyed assessment of whether there is sufficient overall progress to conclude that the strategy is working.” If not, the report argues that “a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted.”

The panel presented a raft of recommendations for the Obama Administration.

On Afghanistan:
  • Continue burden-shifts to Afghanistan's government
  • Take charge of political reform and reconciliation, including a regional diplomatic accord and a deal with the Taliban
  • Continue build-up, training, and equipping of Afghan security forces
  • Encourage private sector investment in Afghan natural resources field
On Pakistan:
  • Continue economic support and training for Pakistan forces and police
  • Consider a trade agreement to open the US market for Pakistani textiles
  • Encourage a shift in Pakistani strategic calculus away from support for militants and groups that use terror as a weapon

The report broke what I think is new ground by decisively including India in the strategic calculus of their recommendations. India, of course, would be included in a regional diplomatic scheme, but the report also recommends the Obama Administration include Lashkar-e-Taiba to the list of targets for drones strikes.

This would be a clear expansion of the drone program in Pakistan and could lead to fallout with the Pakistan public and government, which still supports the group.

The inclusion of India to the Af-Pak calculus is, to my mind, a critical and oft-ignored inclusion. Granted, India was a member of the regional "contact group" suggested by Obama in March 2009. Yet Pakistan's support for anti-India militants has continued, provoking a recent sober assessment by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This of course doesn't mean that Pakistan will crack down on the groups it supports. Yet ongoing pressure by the Administration, tied to benefits and security guarantees, could prove useful in weakening the power of Pakistan-supported militants.

Either that, or the US will call in the drones, directly targeting the militants but perhaps provoking the Pakistani public.

Clearly, option one is better. Option two is simply easier.

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