The Brookings Institution
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Introduction and Moderator:
Michael E. OíHanlon, Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, 21st Century Defense Initiative
Ahmed Rashid, Pakistani Journalist and Author, Pakistan on the Brink
Stephen P. Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, 21st Century Defense Initiative
Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
The discussion focused on what the speaker and discussants see as the realities in Pakistan and Afghanistan today and how those realities shape the current relations between the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. While each of the contributors admitted that much of the conversation was pessimistic in tone, they did recognize some of the points of discussion indicate that these realities point toward positive changes for and in the future.
Ahmed Rashid began his opening remarks by discussing the themes in his book, which was described throughout the discussion as more of a collection of essays than a single book. He said the military and political elite in Pakistan have abandoned what should be their single goal of working for the people of Pakistan. This is in conjunction with the issue that the Pakistani elites have learned nothing from the Cold War and still desire for their nation to be dependent on a foreign power and see extremism as a viable foreign policy. Because of these facts, there has been no globalization or development within the country. While Pakistan, due to its geographical location, could be a land-bridge to various points in the region, Pakistani leaders have not been able to exploit this for any positive gains for the country. This is partially due to the fact that no neighbor, or almost country around the globe with the possible exception of China, trusts Pakistan.
Rashid continued, saying that all of these factors have led to a political and economic crisis in Pakistan. One bright spot in this dismal picture, for him, is that generally, young people want change, reform, and peace and are fed up with both parties in currently government. This, in part, contributes to the weakened strength of the military within the country. While such a situation may lead to military coups, this has not happened recently in Pakistan because the militaryís public support has been eroding over the past decade. One situation which has weakened support for the military is the lack of accountability for the presence of Osama bin Laden within Pakistan.
Rashid then talked about Pakistani relations with the United States. He says that the relationship, at this point, cannot be what it used to be. He contributes this to the fact that the United States
and Pakistan havenít had contact in four months. This is not helped by the fact that Pakistan does not know what it wants and fluctuates from few to many demands depending on the regional and global realities of the moment. Pakistani leaders, he says, are still willfully in denial that the Taliban has a presence in their country.
In concluding his opening remarks, Rashid says that, while the US-Pakistani relationship cannot be fully repaired, he does think there can be a dialogue between the two countries. He believes that the United States cannot leave Afghanistan too hastily because the country is still fighting a civil war. Rather, the country needs to be improved to a point where the United States leaving does not cause further damage to the country. Pulling out early would also express too much panic on the part of the Americans and leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan that many regional powers would want to fill. He pointed out that the Taliban has not cared about the recent incidents between Americans and Afghanis, the burning of Qurans and the recent shooting civilians, citing that the Taliban did not cut off talks over those issues. One key towards resuming talks comes from within the Taliban, as they need to figure out what they want out of talks. He believes that if the many sides can agree to a reduced level of violence, the sides may be able to build from that agreement and begin a more substantive conversation. The impediments he sees to those talks are threefold: the international circle (NATO and other actors), the regional track (specifically Iran), and the ongoing issues with Karzai and his changing positions (which are not aided by the fact that both the Afghani and American governments have mixed views within them on whether or not to talk to each other, about what, and with what goals). His final opening thought was that Americans, especially political leaders in this election season, need to remember that Pakistani relations are neither Republican nor Democratic issues, and that we need to have a cohesive, consistent foreign policy.
Michael OíHanlon followed up this introduction with a question about a brief point that Rashid makes in his book about the Turkey model as a possible positive vision for the future of Pakistan. Rashid explained that this is a vision which necessitates a compromise on religious issues by Pakistani leaders and, since they hold very conservative religious views, this will be very difficult. He explained further saying that people in Pakistan care about electricity, water, infrastructure, modernization, and growth and that Pakistani leaders do not recognize this. To achieve these goals, they will have to relax some of their religious goals, as Turkish leaders successfully did while still incorporating the Muslim Brotherhood into a functional government.
Steve Cohen began his comments on the book and Rashidís introduction saying that he shared the views expressed, specifically those regarding the disorganized state of the American government. He pointed out that each federal agency and various individuals within the White House hold a wide range of views on relations with Pakistan. He believes the United States cannot be a major foreign power without a coherent foreign policy. He pointed to nuclear proliferation and the rise of Islamic extremism as changing everyoneís views on this subject in a variety of ways. Rather than using Turkey as a model for the future of Pakistan, he believes Indonesia may be a better fit; he hopes that the country doesnít turn out like czarist Russia after war with Germany.
Bruce Riedel began by saying that he believes the United States and Pakistan are not on the brink of war, but that they are fighting a proxy war. He believes that American leaders are simply pretending that we are not at war with Pakistan. He then talked about the recent NATO study showing that the Taliban is dependent on Pakistanís Inter-Services Intelligence. While this is not a good relationship for the Taliban, he believes it will endure in the near term. Another complication in the issue of Pakistani-American relations is that we do not look at the South Asian region holistically, as we should. He recommends restoring a strong South Asia bureau and desk in the White House. Among impediments to talks between the two countries, he sees Guantanamo and the Presidentís inability, partially because of Congress, to release any of the prisoners held there. Another obstacle is the probable Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has specifically said he will not talk to the Taliban and only use force against them. He also believes the CIA will eventually find Ayman al-Zwahiri, possibly in Pakistan, and if that happens, President
Obama will order another raid that further embarrasses the Pakistani military. He also believes a Mumbai-like attack on a Western country is imminent (and might have already happened if the French shooter is proven to have a very strong Al-Queda link). When it does, the Westís relationship with Pakistan will deteriorate further. Riedel closed pessimistically saying that the current Pakistani government is possibly the most pro-American government the country could see for some time. This is a major problem, he says, because a better Pakistani-American relationship would be a great benefit to the region and the world.
OíHanlon began the question and answer portion by asking Rashid to help the audience better understand Afghan President Karzai. Rashid explained that Karzai is leading a country with a lack of consensus on anything and that Karzai deals with this by trying to appeal to all these factions with the one sentiment they all share, anti-Americanism, rather than working to positively come to a consensus. Karzai, Rashid continued, is getting conflicting advice from within his cabinet and staff. He is concerned primarily with sovereignty issues because Afghanis see him as a puppet of American occupiers. Finally, Rashid said that Karzai is scared about his future. Rashid believes Karzai should anoint a successor for the 2014 election after which, in theory, he must step down from the presidency. Rashid questioned whether or not this would happen.
The second question concerned what the panelists viewed as the motivations for the Taliban and Pakistan to consider talks and a deal with the United States and/or Afghanistan. Riedel said the Afghan Taliban are motivated to enter talks because they do not see an easy victory in 2014, are tired of war after three decades of fighting, and recognize that the ISI is simply manipulating them for their own benefit. He believes they recognize that the only way forward is through politics. However, he cautioned that the Taliban will have to recognize that the current Karzai government is legitimate before talks can begin Ė this is an impediment. Taking a more pessimistic view, Cohen said that the Taliban are unlikely to engage in talks. He believes the Taliban see themselves as eventually achieving through war. Thus, the only way to fully defeat them is through force. Rashid said that he thinks the Taliban have recognized that they cannot run Afghanistan any better than anyone else and that may get them to sit down at the negotiating table. He concluded by saying that whomever eventually is in charge in Afghanistan, they need to grow an indigenous economy to absorb the workers currently employed by NATO when military forces leave.
OíHanlonís final question referred to an academic idea that would refocus Pakistani-American relations on people, economics, and similar topics rather than military issues. Riedel said that this idea involves embracing progressive ideas for development. This concept will, he said, make it harder for the ISI to influence the conversation and future. Rashid said that this is a good idea and it needs to be backed up with a change in the USís international development spending in Pakistan. Rather than giving a large aid package to Pakistanís military, the US should put that money towards infrastructure.
Turning to the audience for questions, one member brought up the use of drone strikes. Cohen said that he could not think of any other instance in which the United States bombed an ally. Rashid noting that the US cannot announce that the discontinuation of drone strikes as it is not officially and publically conducting them. They strikes are effective, however, and so he does not see them as ending in the near future. Rather, he sees them shifting to use as a tactical weapon against Afghani Talibans crossing the border.
The final questions concerned the future: what steps the United States should be taking, how India complicates the picture, and whether or not a US withdrawal in 2014 will help Pakistani-American relations. Cohen said that he thinks the Pakistani army is having an internal debate over how they should function in the future. His point of optimism was that India, Pakistan, Iran, and the US (as well as Russia and others) want a moderate Afghanistan and will hopefully work together towards that goal. Rashid said that he looks to positives, such as the Pakistani government recognizing the woman who won an Oscar for her movie about acid attacks on girls.
With regards to India, he said there has been improvement in the relationship with Pakistan acknowledging that India has and will continue to have a presence in Afghanistan.
Talks between all those groups need to continue, he said. He believes the Taliban will not oppose Indiaís presence in Afghanistan as they are seen as the most stable source of aid, especially after 2014 when Western countries disengage. He believes that the Taliban will want good relations with whichever countries continue to contribute economic resources.