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The new Afghan-Pakistan policy

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obama afghanistanPresident Obama unveiled today the much awaited new AF-PAK policy. Addressing from Executive Office building, he strived for a “stronger, smarter and more comprehensive strategy” to confront the menace of Al Qaeda. While the cynics will just throw away the new policy as another hackneyed rhetoric from the U.S. President, it is imperative that one must go deep to bring out the ramifications of this outlined policy on Pakistan and on the region in the time to come. Let me first mention here the highlights of his new AF-PAK policy:

  • He stressed to recognize the connection between the future prospects of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He unequivocally put this in these words, ”So let me be clear: Al-Qaeda and its allies the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
  • He will be sending another 4,000 troops to Afghanistan along with hundreds of civilian specialists. The troops which are in addition to the 17,000 the president announced earlier, would be sent to Afghanistan will be charged with training and building the Afghan army and police force.
  • He called upon Congress to pass a bill authorising a tripling of US spending in Pakistan to $1.5bn (£1.05bn) each year over the next five years, to help rebuild “schools, roads and hospitals”, which is also know as Kerry-Lugar bill.
  • The United States will be seeking to work with the United Nations to develop “greater progress for its mandate to coordinate international action and assistance, and to strengthen Afghan institutions.”

One thing that stood out in his address was that he refrained from using the word ‘Talibans’ unlike his predecessor and he vilified only Al Qaeda. This suggests that the talk with Talibans, if they shun the support of Al Qaeda leadership, is not off the table. Otherwise there is no surprise here in the aforementioned main points of his policy yet the role of Pakistan in this ‘War on Terror’ will be increasing manifold in the near future, or at least that is what Obama expects from his ‘major non-NATO ally’. It is difficult not to envisage our President Zardari sitting in the President House grinning with the sigh of relief at the outcome of new oncoming U.S. aid to uplift the battered economy of our country, but what one should not undermine is the expectations that will be coming along with the U.S. treasury notes. Obama said this was “no blank cheque” – and Pakistan would have to show its own commitment to rooting out the “cancer” of Al-Qaeda and its allies. Furthermore there were no words on the ‘drone policy’ which suggests at the least the drone attacks will continue with the present frequency, if their envelope area is not expanded into Baluchistan. However, all this said, the U.S. is now eager to bring the regional players like China, Russia, India and Iran on the tables to forge a lasting solution of Afghanistan. Other World bodies like U.N will be playing a greater role now. So while the surge in troops in Afghanistan will continue the swift diplomacy of Clinton-Holbrooke in the region will try to complement it on the tables.

Our leaders should read the writing on the wall. The world led by Obama is serious about this war and to fight Al Qaeda. Obama will only declare the end of the war only when he feels satisfied that the terror facilities of Al Qaeda have been dismantled in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The U.S. has already announced a prize of $5 million on Baitullah Mashood, the head of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Even if the Pakistani authorities have shown lackadaisical approach to capture Baitullah the Obama administration is serious about him; make no mistake about it. It remains to be seen if Zardari and his cronies have taken a hint from his speech that signaled a coming storm towards Pakistan.

Update: Courtesy of Anders Lynch the Policy Officer with the US Department of State was kind enough to share the entire text of the Obama speech on this blog almost immediately after it was published. I share with you a text file which can be downloaded from here


  • Sophia |

    I admit I have not read the whole of this blog, but here is my reaction. Note that how quickly Pakistan's reference has changed from Indo-Pak to Af-Pak. I think this is an indication of our progress in the last 60 years or so.

    Secondly, recently Pakistan went through a lot of traditional US Shock therapy. From dictatorship to BB's murder, the missing people, the apparent failure of democracy to deliver, election of Zardari as president, the unfathomable inflation, the rise in suicides and suicide attacks, attack on SL team, the bombing in NWFP, the Taliban's rise in Swat, the long march etc. This has disoriented us as a nation and has made it easier for US to move with its plans. Now they apparently look angelical and our government is obviously welcoming it.

    I foresee more attacks in Pakistan now that Quetta has also being mentioned in the US press. It would not take long to bring the attacks to southern punjab – of course 1.5bn dollars is enough to keep the rulers happy!

  • dr.jawwadkhan |

    this time they promise for more money for more attacks.

    suprised to see that even glorious obama is unable to comprehend the ground realities.

    hence it proves two things:

    1) afghanistan is a graveyard of the civilizations.

    2)“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal” ( henry kissinger)

  • Danial Burki |

    This strategy may or may not succeed, but it's far more comprehensive than anything the Bush administration offered. The fact of the matter is, regardless of the reflexive 'us vs them' behaviour shown by our media and by many Pakistanis, this is a serious problem.

    The Obama administration deserves credit also for ensuring that it took all stakeholders on board before announcing this strategy; apart from Pakistan, Iran, India, the Central Asian Republics, China and Russia were all asked for their input.

    Dr Jawwad, the actual term is 'graveyard of empires' not 'civilisations'; and even then, the term is historically incorrect at best. I'll quote Zafar Hilaly here, who said the following about this term while writing in the Daily Times (March 26):

    "There is a body of opinion in Pakistan that feels that Afghanistan being “the graveyard of Empires” American attempts to defeat the Taliban are futile and, therefore, an immediate US pullout should be the nation’s foremost priority.

    "In fact, no Empire collapsed as a result of Afghan opposition and certainly not the British Empire. The three Afghan wars that the British fought were more in the nature of large skirmishes and if the British-Indian troops came off worse in two of them it had absolutely no impact on the British hold on India. King Abdur Rahman (1880-1901) perhaps Afghanistan’s most effective monarch was a staunch British ally who solicited and obtained a British guarantee for his Kingdom’s integrity and was bestowed with India’s highest award — the Order of the Star of India — presumably for proving a staunch ally and not a grave digger of the Empire.

    "As for King Amanullah he spent most of his reign trying to ape the British even encouraging Afghan women to wear skirts. And when he lost his throne he opted for exile where skirts were aplenty — Europe.

    "The British strategy in dealing with the troublesome Afghan tribes was to thrash malcontent tribes every so often and/or toss them a bone in the form of lucre now and then. “Why fight when you can buy them over” was the preferred British modus operandi. And it worked for nearly a 100 years."

  • yaseen ch |

    I admit sophia i haven't read Ur comment completely but unless i and u don't fight for our cause this will happen ,so rise up and stand for justice.

  • farrah, k.raja |

    Despite the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban take over for so long the sense of civil life and luiberties is not lost among people.

    I have understood one thing,humanity and human values are universal,people like to have their civil liberties ,most important being how one wants to live ,have hair cutt ,dressing up and to express what one feels to say.

    Afghan people have shown strong resistance to Taliban as well.

    Looking at Iran ,the poverty Islamic revolution brought and widenning gulf between the rich and poor is the biggest injustice ,it is visible in all Islamic countries.Cummunism failed because of its uniformity and stale life.

    it seems Taliban may have forced people to subjugate or migrate but people have still got the human and civil values.

    The reaction will be same as a suppressed reaction is emerging from Iran ,a more Westernised one.

    I would not be surprised,if Afghanistan becomes the most modern and liberal country in comming times.

    Strategies are nothing human beings are everything and it seems USA has learnt this.

    USA is winning because they have become human friendly.People want peace .

    The ground reality is there are no Taliban supporters nobody wish to live under them.The better way out for Taliban is also the same one humanitarian.

    The sooner they disband their their militancy the better.

    They should learn from IRA,which has several groups they must see the extreme ones are hated by the Irish themselves.

    People do not like to beassociated with them.People are not naive any more and are not ignorant to the human insticnts .

    Extremists should recount their casualities as compared to the ones they caused.

    Human beings are not lambs bought in market to be slaughtered for the political views of Saudi Businessman come war lord.

    It is not jihad.People have realised it and USA has realised it.

  • dr.jawwadkhan |

    oh yes! its a graveyard of empires. actually some other scholar said that "afghanistan is a black hole of the civilizations".

    i do not know about zafar hilaly.

    but i do know the west recognizes afghanistan as a "graveyard of the empires".

    no one knows what is the exact methodology behind this but it is the fact that every empire who invaded afghanistan faced a downfall.

    we do not need the high intellegence level or loads of information to foresee the american defeat.their desperation,their restlessness,their gestures and the news coming from afghanistan is clearly indicating that america is losing the war in afghanistan.

    the deteriorating echonomy and huge burden of this war could surprise any one.

    currently after joining additional soldiers there would be 55000 american soldiers in afghanistan

    there are over 11 $trillion in debt and they have spent $173 billion in Afghanistan since 2001.with a national debt of $11.315 trillion, an incomprehensible figure.in addition that america have over $55 trillion in unfunded future pension liabilities.

    general david petarius (us central command) said:

    "Afghanistan has been known over the years as the graveyard

    of empires, and if we're not careful, it's going to help

    be the graveyard of our empire as well"

    yes it is the fact that for the money afghan can do almost any thing but you should not forget the other fact that the afghan can not be ruled.they can not tolerate foreign soldiers on their soil.

  • Danial Burki |

    But they're more than willing to be bribed or be hired as mercenaries. I have a strong suspicion that the US is planning to do exactly that, much like the 'Awakening' in Iraq where insurgents were bought off for a daily wage. Perhaps the Yanks need to read up on how the British dealt with the tribes.

  • farrah, k.raja |

    @but it is the fact that every empire who invaded Afghanistan faced a downfall.

    And so would Taliban,the people incharge of Afghanistan are not going to be Arabs,Egyptians or the rest ,it would be real Afghanis.

    Real afghanistan is very different from the one we see on TV and press for past twenty years.

  • farrah, k.raja |

    in the past century the invaders in Afghanistan were Muslims,so Afghanis were taken in ,in the name of religion and their tradition of hospitality and friendship but do not underestimate Afghan people.

    When the people who are working in Pakistan will decide to go back when the Afghanis living abroad will claim their country back and I see that happening ……..Pakistan must decide its border line with Afghanistan we will be the first one to face the back lash.

  • Kamil Hamid |

    Lets see… "Schools, roads and hospitals". Don't those words just ring of promise? Don't they sound like something we'd all like to see money poured into?

    Don't they also sound also sound like the same empty, hollow promises (read: lies) that have been made to us by the United States for as long as we can remember?

    You know, it's funny… Every time the U.S. pours money into the nation, it ends up finding its way into the pockets of a few corrupt politicians/generals and also *mysteriously* results in a sudden upsurge of religious militancy, which conveniently becomes the perfect excuse for the U.S. to invade the region the next time round.

    It's time we got a clue: The U.S. has absolutely no interest in seeing this region stable. It is simply too profitable to pitt us against each other and reap the benefits by using this as the perfect excuse to build a permanent presence in the region. India and China can be held at bay this way. Iran can be encircled (Iraq and Afghanistan are already being used for this) and baited since it seems to be the only power that has managed to survive despite the odds.

  • Insouciant |

    While it is debatable that the decline of empires had been precipitated by their failures in Afghanistan, but it can be stated without any fear of being refuted that Afghanistan has always given a tough time, whether it has been Americans or the British or the Persians or Alexander or Genghis Khan. U.S. is already facing a tough time there, and even though 42 countries are contributing to the military troops in form of ISAF, yet their share in combat operations has been abysmally low when compared to the efforts of Americans and Britishers. Every one is reluctant to apply force in the region as they know it is not sustainable.

    U.S. has already lowered its goals. Now we do not hear the fancy words of 'nation-building' or 'promoting democracy' coming out of White House; all they are focusing now is to disrupt Alqaeda and to have a face-saving exit leaving behind a trained Afghan army.

  • mtbaloch |

    ns asks: "How is the (Obama)policy any different from the old policy?"

    The answer in brief is this:The Obama policy makes the job of cheating for the ISI and Pakistani Establishment more difficult ! By allowing Iran a role and encouraging the Gulf and Central Asian Muslim states to connect directly along with the NATO and other powers such as Japan, India, China and Russia, Obama is ending Pakistan's exclusive jamaadaariy concerning Afghanistan.

    Also, it is the death of the ISI's mini-imperialistic cum typical Muslim South Asian fanatic "Strategic Depth" policy.

    Hopefully, the Obama Adminisration will no longer allow the sophisticated weapons and other resources given to defeat the Al-Qaedah to be used to destroy the Baloch.

    Malek Towghi, Ph.D., Liaison, Baloch Human Rights International (USA)

  • sikander |

    People who understand this region of Afghanistan Pakistan know very well how closely linked these two countries are. There is no practice border between to the two countries as same ethnic group lives on both sides of the border and does not recognise the international border. Also for ages, as Afghanistan is a land locked country, all its trade is conducted through Pakistan. Resolving Pakistan will resolve Afghanistan and vice versa so for the purposes of eliminating Al-Qaida, this region should be considered one continuous territory and Afpak is an apt name for it.


    By Sikander Hayat

  • farrah, k.raja |

    This is indeed the best deal provided,the hope is if Pakistan and afghanistan work out on it with true sincerity.

    Obama has taken huge risks the biggest of all trusting the people on ground.

    I hope Pkaistan and Afghanistan take this oppertunity to rebuild their countries and to eradicate all anarchist once nad for all.Obama has involved Saudi Arabia in it as well ,so I am hopping it must work now.

    It is in the best interest of Pakistan.The focus is on Pakistan and Afghanistan and in return ,both countries really need to hit hard and directly so that the message is heard clearly ,no way forward for arms .Only this message will convince the grass root level to shun the voilence and melt away in the main stream .Easier said than done,that is why I think this is straight but delicate policey.

    Any one who has work experience in tribal belts know how hard it is to convince them of the change.This message must be translated.

    This is the last chance to rebuild Afghanistan and Pakistan since the first Afghan war.

    We must not let this oppertunity to be plundered away by the few.We must ensure that this is successful.This is not the success of USA ,it is teh success of our people.

    We can never give any gaurantees in terms of threats to USA band rest of the European world ,but education on the grass root level is must in this context.

  • Triple S |

    We are finally getting to see the change that Obama had promised. In all honesty, I was going around asking people to make a critical assessment of this war against terrorism that US (and Pakistan of course) has been fighting for the last 8-9 years. There is no major accomplishment so far. Afghan Government does not control anything outside Kabul and US troops do not control anything outside their barracks.

    So this new policy only shows how desperate the Americans are to conclude this messy affair. Taliban will not miss out on this opportunity to get things their way. Negotiating out of desperation never helps.