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October 8, 2008

Pakistan 'Greatest Single Challenge' to Next President

by Jim Lobe

Calling Pakistan the "greatest single challenge" to the next U.S. administration, a bipartisan group of South Asia experts recommends cutting aid to the Pakistani army unless it commits itself to the counter-insurgency struggle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

"The Pakistan military should understand that its failure to embrace this fundamental shift in outlook will significantly reduce U.S. military assistance," according to the report by the "Pakistan Policy Working Group" of the government-supported U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) that was released with little fanfare here late last week.

"While Washington has muted this warning to Pakistan in the past, the next administration must convey this message explicitly and convincingly and then be prepared to follow through," the 13-member group concluded in its 46-page report, entitled "The Next Chapter: The United States and Pakistan" [.pdf].

The report, which also endorsed a pending congressional package that would provide Pakistan with $1.5 billion a year in non-military aid, also insisted that Washington is justified in carrying out unilateral cross-border attacks into Pakistan against terrorist targets until Islamabad shows "that it is ready and willing to act aggressively" against them on its own.

At the same, however, "the U.S. will need to be circumspect on the extent to which it relies on such strikes, recognizing that each strike carries the cost of undermining U.S. long-term objectives of stabilizing Pakistan and preventing radical forces from strengthening in the country," according to the report, which noted that Islamabad halted all fuel shipments to U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the aftermath of a cross-border attack by U.S. Special Forces in South Waziristan last month.

"Any sustained interruption of supplies would seriously hamper our ability to operate in Afghanistan because 80 percent of the logistical support for the U.S. military operating in Afghanistan flows through Pakistan," it said, noting that Washington should explore alternative supply routes into Afghanistan in the event that ties with Islamabad worsen.

The new report, which was endorsed by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and the former co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is the latest in a growing avalanche of "bipartisan" reports being churned out by Washington-based think tanks that are designed to influence the policies of the administration that takes power Jan. 20, whether it is headed by Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama.

Indeed, Armitage, a former senior Pentagon official who served as deputy secretary of state during President George W. Bush's first term, is known to be advising McCain, while Hamilton, a former Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, endorsed Obama as president last April and has close ties to major campaign figures.

The report notes that U.S. interests in Pakistan, including its nuclear arsenal and past proliferation activities, the presence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas, and the war in Afghanistan, "are more threatened now than at any time since the Taliban was driven from Afghanistan in 2001."

"Afghanistan cannot succeed without success in Pakistan, and vice versa," the report stresses in what has increasingly become conventional wisdom among the foreign-policy elite here. "Al-Qaeda's growing capabilities and the insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be addressed effectively until the sanctuaries in Pakistan are shut down," it notes.

The report argues that the advent of a civilian-led government in Islamabad during the past year and ultimately the resignation of former President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, combined with the forthcoming change of administrations here, marks an important opportunity for Washington "to rethink its entire approach to Pakistan."

The new administration here, it said, should "exhibit patience with Pakistan's new democratically elected leaders" and support their efforts assert their control of their military, particularly over the military's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which Washington believes has provided critical assistance to the Taliban and played a key role in the July 7 car-bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The report calls the new U.S. administration should order a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – a product of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies – to "form a common operating picture within the U.S. government" on precisely what Pakistan is doing to both counter and support the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other radical armed groups in the region in order to determine to what extent Islamabad's intent is consistent with U.S. interests.

That NIE would then become the basis for developing a strategy "that seeks to adjust Pakistan's cost-benefit calculus of using militants in its foreign policy through close cooperation and by calibrating U.S. military assistance" accordingly.

At the same time, the new administration should appoint a senior official dedicated to improving ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan and intensify its own diplomatic efforts to encourage peace efforts between India and Pakistan.

On the economic front, the report recommends "shifting the center of gravity in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from military to nonmilitary engagement." In that respect, the administration should support the pending congressional package, provided that Pakistan agrees to use it for projects devoted to basic education, health care, water-resource management, and law enforcement and justice programs that can be closely monitored. "The era of the blank check is over," the report said.

Washington has provided some $11 billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001, almost all of which went to the military, which, in turn, largely failed to use it for the intended purposes of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Future military aid should be conditioned on the army's adoption of these roles, a shift that, according to the report, "will face bureaucratic opposition."

Group members included more than half a dozen former senior officials and South Asia specialists who served in State Department, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council, as well as several independent experts, including Brookings Institution Fellow Stephen Cohen and RAND Corporation analyst Christine Fair. The report was co-sponsored by Armitage's consulting firm, Armitage International; the right-wing Heritage Foundation; and DynCorp International, a consulting firm and major contractor with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

(Inter Press Service)


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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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