Global Security: Afghanistan and Pakistan - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

5  The Obama plan: addressing previous failings?

The Obama plan

183.  Speaking about Afghanistan at the Munich Security Conference in early February 2009, Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, was reported to have said, "I have never seen anything like the mess we have inherited", and to have commented that "it is like no other problem we have confronted, and in my view it's going to be much tougher than Iraq".[310] Referring to the US's previous approach to Afghanistan, in April 2009 the Asia Society concluded:

The policies of the previous administration toward this conflict zone fell short. The administration did not match its proclaimed objectives with the necessary resources and strategic effort, although resources began to increase in recent years, and it did not develop a sufficiently integrated approach to the two countries and the region. Its ideological "war on terror" mind-set blinded the administration to significant strategic realities of this region, which led to a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship with Pakistan that exacerbated regional tensions, failed to prevent al-Qaida from re-establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), enabled the Taliban to regroup and rearm from their strongholds in Quetta and FATA, and offered no significant response to the upsurge of the Pakistan Taliban movement.[311]

184.  Early in his presidency, President Obama conceded that the US's Afghan strategy had been allowed to drift and he accepted that more troops were needed to tackle the insurgency. In February 2009, Mr Obama authorised the deployment of an additional 17,000 combat troops to be based mainly in southern Afghanistan. On 27 March, he presented his new strategy for Afghanistan, which had been recalibrated to include Pakistan. The US's new approach built on three previous reviews conducted by General Lute at the National Security Council, Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Petraeus at CENTCOM.

185.  The overriding goal of the US plan is to disrupt, dismantle and destroy Al Qaeda's sanctuaries in Pakistan and its support network and to prevent it from establishing safe havens in Afghanistan. The heavy focus on Pakistan is complemented by a recognition of the importance of wider regional support for a stable Afghanistan. Looking to the longer term, the plan stresses the need to improve and accelerate army and police training in a bid to ensure that the Afghan security forces are able, ultimately, to lead counterinsurgency efforts with reduced international assistance. Other priorities include improving co-ordination between civilian and military efforts, and between international actors. Progress on all these areas is to be measured against a series of benchmarks. Finally, the plan accepts that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won unless there is political reconciliation with "non-ideologically committed insurgents".[312] We discuss this in more detail in Chapter 8.


186.  We asked our witnesses for their views on the general thrust of the Obama plan. Christina Lamb told us that, "the good thing is that everyone now recognises that the situation is a mess and that something has to be done quickly. That is a lot better than, say, a year ago, when people were still talking about it as though it was somehow successful".[313] James Fergusson told us that the plan, and its reliance on a "comprehensive approach", is in many respects the same as that which the UK proposed in 2006 when troops were first deployed to Helmand. Mr Fergusson noted that a lack of resources were primarily to blame for its failure to work in Helmand, but offered a more favourable prognosis for the US, given that "they are the only ones, really, who now have the resources and the will to do it".[314] However, like Christina Lamb, he expressed some scepticism as to whether it can work given that "we have lost the consent of the Afghan people because we have been going for eight years".[315] Daniel Korski told us that President Obama's strategy is "everything to every man". He said that the importance of the strategy is "not that it is saying anything that has not been said, but that it has allowed the US Administration to re-engage allies and the Afghan authorities on the strategy".[316] In a recent report for the US think-tank the Council on Foreign Relations, Daniel Markey states:

While the broad contours are in place, clearly Washington's approach to South Asia remains a work in progress. The strategy's authors insist that it is intended to provide a framework, not a strait-jacket, for U.S. policy. Questions remain about the correct prioritization of U.S. objectives; the level of and manner in which U.S. diplomatic, military, intelligence, and economic resources should be deployed; and the appropriate sequencing and duration of U.S. efforts.[317]

Military surge

187.  Daniel Markey's paper for the Council on Foreign Relations states that basic counter-insurgency lessons from Iraq appear to have informed US plans for Afghanistan. Markey states that, having committed an extra 17,000 combat troops to southern Afghanistan, "Washington will begin with a rapid expansion of military force to confront decisively the Afghan Taliban's offensive during the spring and summer fighting seasons".[318] We asked witnesses for their view on the US's plans for a military 'surge' of 17,000 combat troops to southern Afghanistan. Daniel Korski argued that this would make the US the biggest presence in the south and the east, which in his view would mark "a very profound, strategic difference in the way that it has been proceeding until now".[319] We also heard from interlocutors during our visit to Afghanistan that the imminent arrival of US troops in the south would be warmly welcomed by the British military, in part because of the resources and equipment that the US would make available.

188.  However, some of our witnesses were sceptical about the difference that the additional US combat forces alone will make to the situation in the south. David Loyn told us that the extra 17,000 US troops would not make a significant difference on the ground without "the changing politics of a far more effective development strategy, which is the bit of President Obama's policy that I am most sceptical about." [320] General David McKiernan—who in May was replaced by General Stanley McChrystal as US commander in Afghanistan—had previously requested 10,000 more troops in addition to those to be deployed as part of the 'surge'. It is reported that the White House will decide in the autumn whether to accede to the request. The Council on Foreign Relations notes that by the middle of 2010, the US troop presence will have expanded by nearly one-third, to 78,000. Dr Stuart Gordon of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, warned that there is a danger that "the surge will be seen as a US surge" and as such "putting an Afghan face on security is essential". He added that it will also be crucial to reform "the Afghan Government sufficiently so that they can deliver tangible results on the ground to cement a political settlement".[321]

189.  The US plan focuses heavily on the need to accelerate training for the Afghan security forces so as to increase their self-reliance. Dr Stuart Gordon described the US's plan to send an additional 4,000 mentors to support the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Policy as a "key reform measure". He called the Obama strategy with a full Brigade dedicated towards training "a real potential force multiplier".[322] He told us that the "key is to build some form of social contract or political settlement between Afghans and their Government".[323] To supplement this, NATO allies have also agreed to augment their existing support by providing senior-level mentoring of the ANA and an expanded role in developing the ANP, both under the control of one training organisation.[324]

190.  During our visit to Afghanistan we heard widespread support for the US's new commitment to improve the previously poor co-ordination between the various actors in that country. The US has stated that it accepts that military, political and development efforts have to be better co-ordinated and that "an effective response will require allies, partners, the UN and other international organizations, and NGOs to significantly increase their involvement in Afghanistan".[325] Our witnesses approved of the US's plan to dispatch hundreds of US civilian experts to increase reconstruction and development programmes, and took the view that this would be an important step forward in persuading ordinary Afghans to side with the government rather than the insurgency.[326]


191.  One of the key changes under the new US strategy is the move away from almost total reliance on military might under the Bush administration to an approach which places a greater emphasis on diplomacy. The US has pledged to involve India, Russia, China and Iran, as well as establishing a "Contact Group" and a regional security and economic co-operation forum. The participation of all of Afghanistan's neighbours, including Pakistan, India and Iran, at the International Conference on Afghanistan held in The Hague on 31 March 2009, suggests that there is a willingness on the part of those countries to support regional initiatives. Notwithstanding this, our witnesses were insistent that, as important as the other regional actors are to Afghanistan's future, the key state that the US should be focusing on is Pakistan.[327]

Engaging Pakistan


192.  Previously, under the Bush administration, US effort was largely focused on targeting Al Qaeda operatives and networks in Pakistan. To this end, between 2001 and 2007, the US gave more than $10 billion in traceable aid to the Musharraf regime, the vast majority of which went directly to the military.[328] In his book 'Descent into Chaos', Ahmed Rashid reflects the views of many commentators who believe that the US's strategy of offering aid with few, if any, conditions attached produced few strategic returns.[329]

193.  There has been a significant change of emphasis under the Obama administration towards seeing Pakistan as both part of the problem in relation to Afghanistan, and potentially part of the solution, for the reasons that we have outlined in Chapter 5 of this Report.. Under the new strategy, both countries are to be treated as a single 'theatre' (sometimes dubbed 'AfPak'). There are to be regular trilateral US-Pakistan-Afghanistan talks, and bilateral meetings with President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. In addition to diplomatic initiatives, the US has committed to providing the Pakistani security forces with operational and development support to improve their ability to mount successful counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Non-military aid to Pakistan is to triple to $1.5 billion every year for five years. This will include direct budget support, development assistance, infrastructure investment, and technical advice to provide longer-term economic stability. The US also wants to strengthen the civilian government by fostering reform in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province by improving economic prospects. However, disquiet in Congress about the Administration's plans to increase military funding to Pakistan have apparently resulted in the Obama administration's decision to take a harder line than its predecessor on the issue of aid conditionality - it has indicated that the pledge of $7.5 billion in civilian aid over five years will only be forthcoming if Pakistan demonstrates its commitment to uprooting Al Qaeda and other violent extremists.[330] We asked Dr Gohel whether the US had now got the balance right in terms of aid conditionality. His view was that:

"It is a starting point. It will take time to see whether it produces positive results. The language is right. The US Administration have understood that more needs to be done. If the country is going to receive $1.5 billion a year as has been proposed, more needs to be done in terms of tackling the Taliban, Al Qaeda and domestic terrorism".[331]


US attacks on targets in Pakistan

194.  President Obama's strategy remains silent on a number of issues which are nevertheless considered by many people to be of major importance to the success or otherwise of the US plan for Pakistan. The first of these is US military action against terrorist targets in Pakistan.

195.  Frustration at Pakistan's failure between 2001 and 2009 to deal effectively with the threat from the tribal areas has been expressed by both the Afghanistan and US administrations. In 2008, Afghanistan publicly criticised Pakistan for failing to stop insurgents crossing into the country, and warned Pakistan that it was considering taking military action to tackle the situation.[332] The US went one step further after losing, what Dr Gohel describes as "faith and trust" in the ISI, which the US believed was passing intelligence to terrorists that it was targeting. Dr Gohel explained that the solution adopted by the Bush Administration was the use of Predator drone strikes, which are "quick and decisive".[333] We were told by Professor Gregory that "it is a measure of the perilous state of the war with the Taliban in Afghanistan that the US clearly feels these risks are outweighed by the need to take direct action in the FATA".[334]

196.  We heard conflicting reports about the value of drone attacks during our visit and from our witnesses. Many of our witnesses and interlocutors told us that the US's targeting has been precise and largely accurate and the attacks had significantly curtailed Al Qaeda's ability to plan and mount attacks against Western targets. For instance, Dr Gohel told us that the US drone attacks have led to the elimination of a number of senior Al Qaeda members including Abu Hamza Rabia, Abu Laith al-Libi and Midhat Mursi, who directed al-Qaeda's chemical, biological, and nuclear programme. Another of those alleged to have been killed after previously escaping from a Pakistani prison, was the British national Rashid Rauf, who was sought by the British authorities in connection with the alleged plot to target transatlantic airliners in 2006. However, several interlocutors in Pakistan pointed to considerable anger amongst the Pakistani public at reported attacks which, in their opinion, had exacerbated already existing anti-US sentiment. Professor Shaun Gregory told us that the drone attacks are regarded by many in Pakistan as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and that this "plays very badly in terms of western and anti-western sympathies, particularly in the Pakistan army and ISI. They resent this".[335]

197.  President Zardari has stated publicly that he "cannot condone violations of our sovereignty even when they are done by allies and friends. We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own".[336] Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the foreign minister, has also been quoted as saying that US drone attacks were damaging trust between the two allies.[337] However, other press reports suggest that the government's public protestations mask a degree of tacit acceptance of the drone attacks on the part of Pakistani government.[338]

198.  Although President Zardari was reported to have raised the issue of US drone attacks with the Prime Minister when he visited London on 16 September 2008, the Government refrained from issuing any official comments on this matter. During our oral evidence session Lord Malloch-Brown told us that the Government was "obviously concerned" about the attacks "but we have been very clear that this is an issue between the Pakistanis and the US." On the question of 'collateral damage', he added:

Civilian casualties are a very inflammatory issue - they are also a desperate issue of unnecessary loss of life - but we have been very clear that this is an issue between the Pakistanis and the US. […] They need to work out between themselves how they want to handle it. We are observers, not participants, in this issue.[339]

199.  We conclude that the use of US drones to attack Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan may have resulted in serious damage to Al Qaeda's network and capabilities. However, we also conclude that these attacks have damaged the US's reputation among elements of the Pakistani population who regard them as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. We further conclude that drone attacks remain a high-risk strategy and must not become a substitute for the challenging yet vital task of building a Pakistani civilian government counter-terrorist capacity and army capable of conducting counter-insurgency operations and dealing with extremist threats.


200.  As we discussed in Paragraphs 165 to 176 above, Pakistan's security establishment has consistently seen India as its primary foreign policy threat, and has been particularly concerned about India's expanding activity in Afghanistan. Although President Obama's strategy stresses the need to involve regional neighbours in finding a solution to Afghanistan and Pakistan's security dilemmas, it makes no specific mention of the role of India. Lord Malloch-Brown noted that "it was interesting that, when the American envoy [Richard Holbrooke] was appointed, there was an immediate flurry when it was suggested that his remit also covered India. The Indians jumped to the conclusion that that meant Kashmir, and he had to clarify rapidly that that was not the case because there is sensitivity".[340] India regards the issue of Kashmir and its status, as an internal, domestic matter and has consistently bridled at the prospect of outside intervention. However, referring to Special Envoy Holbrooke, Daniel Korski told us that, "it is fair to say that [his] mandate includes India even though it does not say so on the package".[341] For its part, Pakistan remains extremely concerned about what it perceives to be the US Administration's wooing of India, in particular, the recent US-Indian deals on civilian nuclear co-operation. Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid argue that "the new US-Indian nuclear deal effectively recognizes New Delhi's legitimacy as a nuclear power while continuing to treat Islamabad, with its record of proliferation, as a pariah".[342] Baroness Williams told us (giving evidence as part of our recent inquiry into non-proliferation) that it "has made Pakistan, at an internal political level, argue that it has been treated quite differently from India and far less favourably. It is not a happy moment for that kind of attitude to be taken in a democracy that is clearly very frail at present".[343] Lord Malloch-Brown echoed these views when he told us the US-India nuclear deal "has merely exacerbated Pakistan's sense of grievance about its nuclear status vis-à-vis India. There are real issues to be dealt with there."[344]

201.  During our visit we were told that there was no appetite - given the current political climate and particularly following the terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based groups on Mumbai in 2008 - for a return to the Composite Dialogue process which previously offered a potential way forward on the Kashmir dispute, and an opportunity to de-escalate tensions between Pakistan and India. However, we were also told that both parties had "left the door open" to allow the process to be re-started in the event of more propitious circumstances. We discussed the issue of Kashmir in our Report on South Asia which was published in April 2007.[345] In that Report we welcomed the confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir question and their cooperation against terrorism. We reiterate our previous conclusion from our South Asia Report that the UK should encourage India and Pakistan to make further progress on the peace process, but that the Government should not get directly involved in negotiations nor try to suggest solutions to the question of Kashmir, unless requested to do so by both India and Pakistan.

202.  In June 2009, Manmohan Singh, India's Prime Minister and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan met during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, the first high-level bi-lateral meeting to take place since September 2008. Pakistan stated its desire to resume full diplomatic dialogue which India and press reports suggested that both countries agreed to share information on terrorists. In the week prior to the SCO summit, "Mr Singh told the Indian parliament that was prepared to meet Pakistan "more than halfway", but only if Pakistan could show they are serious about tackling terrorism".[346] Further talks are expected.

203.  President Zardari's comments at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as his recent remarks to the effect that terrorism, not India, was now seen by Pakistan as the greater threat (see Paragraph 172 above), while welcome, do not dispel the suspicion that a large part of his country's security establishment continues to be fixated on India and on the possibility of a future military conflict between the two countries.

204.  Giving oral evidence to us, Lord Malloch-Brown stated:

While you have a Pakistan which considers that its first military purpose in life is to maintain 800,000 troops on the Indian border and to be ready to fight a conventional war with India and maybe a nuclear war with India, it is very hard to get it to focus, let alone train for, equip for and organise for an insurgency in the Swat valley, or for insurgencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. I agree that, until we can de-escalate the tension between the two countries and allow Pakistan to detach and demobilise itself from the Indian dimension and reengage around its internal security problems, we shall never get an optimal outcome. That is not just an overnight strategic decision. It is all about trust building and all the rest, and it has a Kashmir component to it.[347]

205.  Professor Gregory was of the view that "we need to understand that Pakistan has legitimate interests and concerns in Afghanistan and in the region more broadly and that these concerns need to be listened to and addressed, otherwise the paranoia of the Pakistan Army/ISI will continue to be fed".[348]


The question of resources

206.  Dr Stuart Gordon of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, raised with us some practical concerns about implementing the new US plan as it relates to Pakistan. Although Dr Gordon told us that development assistance will play "a key part in the future of Pakistan, particularly in the border areas", he added that it raises "interesting questions as to what type of development work will work and will achieve some sort of political or stabilising effect". He said that there were "real questions about whether we have instruments" to implement the plan and "whether we are expecting far too much of development assistance and financial aid". He commented that there will be "significant difficulties" in terms of channelling funding and said it was unclear as to who would be delivering the aid and "what political message" this would send.[349]

207.  Daniel Markey, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, states that the United States has "relatively few direct policy tools for fighting extremism and improving state capacity inside Pakistan". Mr Markey also states that

while the President's remarks prioritized Pakistan as a US national security concern, US resources and attention are far more heavily engaged in Afghanistan. Since 9/11, the United States has spent (or requested for fiscal year 2009) roughly $170 billion on Operation Enduring Freedom and just over $15 billion in assistance and reimbursements to Pakistan.[350]

Also commenting on the issue of resources, Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations suggested that for the US to "have any chance of effectively formulating, implementing, and monitoring these new and improved assistance programs, Washington must also invest in its own institutions".[351] He adds that "USAID and the Department of State will need expanded personnel and security to operate throughout Pakistan and to enable improved cooperation with public and private organizations".[352]

The extent of political leverage

208.  The response to the US strategy in Pakistan was mixed. President Zardari stated that the US's new emphasis on economic progress to combat militancy was a "positive change".[353] In a recent meeting with Richard Holbrooke, President Zardari is also reported to have said that "Pakistan needs unconditional support by the international community in the fields of education, health, training and provision of equipment for fighting terrorism".[354]

209.  Daniel Markey has commented that widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan, together with distrust of the US on the part of the military as well as the present poor security conditions, "impose severe limits on US military, intelligence, and even economic development efforts". He concludes that the "the centerpiece of U.S. efforts should therefore be to win trust among partners within Pakistan's military, intelligence, and civilian institutions and to empower these partners to undertake the daunting task of fighting terrorism and militancy".[355]

210.  In his written submission Professor Gregory discusses a range of issues which limit the US's ability to exercise leverage over Pakistan. He told us that it is important not to "lose sight of sight of Pakistan's capacity for 'coercive options', [involving] its capacity to deny the West what support it presently offers and/or to step up support for the Taliban, for terrorists, for proliferation, and so on. I have […] heard several senior Pakistani diplomats and military figures make precisely this threat, albeit veiled in polite language".[356] Professor Gregory also stated that the narrow focus of the Bush administration on President Musharraf and the Pakistan Army "denied the West a broader front of engagement with Pakistan" He added, "democracy has declined in Pakistan and Islamic extremism and terrorism have flourished. It will not be easy to find that broader front or to reverse the consequences of Bush's policy myopia".[357]

211.  We conclude that the US plan marks an important and long overdue recalibration of its relationship with Pakistan. Its emphasis on civilian aid, with appropriate conditions attached, has the potential to ensure that long term improvements in Pakistan's political, economic and social capacity limit the appeal of extremism. We further conclude that it is crucial that the US addresses Pakistan's fears, both legitimate and perceived, relating to India and reassures Pakistan about the extent and nature of the US's long-term commitment to Pakistan.

310   "Barack Obama envoy Richard Holbrooke warns of 'a new Iraq' as he heads to Pakistan", The Times, 9 February 2009 Back

311   "Back from the Brink: A Strategy for Stabilizing Afghanistan-Pakistan", Asia Society Taskforce, April 2009 Back

312   "US Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan", White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's Report, April 2009 Back

313   Q 145 Back

314   Q 188 [James Fergusson] Back

315   Q 118, Q 145 Back

316   Q 147 Back

317   Daniel Markey, "From AfPak to PakAf: a Response to the New U.S. Strategy for South Asia", Council on Foreign Relations, April 2009, p3  Back

318   Ibid. Back

319   Q 147 [ Daniel Korski]  Back

320   Q 117 Back

321   Q 147 [Dr Stuart Gordon] Back

322   Q 149 Back

323   Q 147 [Dr Stuart Gordon] Back

324   "NATO's Training Mission, Afghanistan", NATO, 4 April 2009  Back

325   "US Policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan", White Paper of the Interagency Policy Group's Report, April 2009 Back

326   Q 147 Back

327   Q 157 Back

328   Craig Cohen and Derek Chollet, "When $10 Billion Is Not Enough: Rethinking US Strategy toward Pakistan", The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2007, 30:2 pp 7-19 Back

329   Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (2008), p 401  Back

330   "With conditions set on aid, Pakistan sharpens tone", The Guardian, 5 April 2009 Back

331   Q 160 Back

332   "Karzai issues warning to Pakistan", BBC News Online, 15 June 2008 Back

333   Q166 [Dr Sajjan Gohel] Back

334   Ev 165 Back

335   Q 54 Back

336   "Zardari: 'Give us the drones and we will take out the militants ourselves'", Independent, 8 April 2009 Back

337   "Pakistan fighting for survival, says Zardari President says he needs unconditional aid to fight terrorism", Daily Telegraph, 8 April 2009 Back

338   "Obama urged to escalate drone bombing raids deep into Pakistan", The Times, 19 March 2009 Back

339   Q 233 Back

340   Q 231 Back

341   Q 157 Back

342   Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid, "From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan", Foreign Affairs, November/December 2008 Back

343   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2007-08, Global Security: Non-Proliferation, HC 222, Q 45 Back

344   Q 232 Back

345   Foreign Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, South Asia, HC 55  Back

346   "India and Pakistan talk for first time since Mumbai attacks", Daily Telegraph, 16 June 2009 Back

347   Q 231 Back

348   Ev 169 Back

349   Q 173 Back

350   Daniel Markey, "From AfPak to PakAf: a Response to the New U.S. Strategy for South Asia", Council on Foreign Relations, April 2009, p 7 Back

351   Ibid., p 6 Back

352   IbidBack

353   "Pakistan's Zardari hails US strategy review", Reuters, 28 March 2009  Back

354   "Pakistan fighting for survival, says Zardari President says he needs unconditional aid to fight terrorism", Daily Telegraph, 8 April 2009 Back

355   Daniel Markey, "From AfPak to PakAf: a Response to the New U.S. Strategy for South Asia", Council on Foreign Relations, April 2009, p 6 Back

356   Ev 167 Back

357   Ev 167 Back

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