Thursday, December 3, 2009

Pakistan demands U.S. pledge Afghanistan is safe before withdrawal

The President's Afghanistan Policy Speech at West Point on Tuesday night was astonishing in its incoherence. He announced that he was sending in 30,000 additional troops, and in practically the same breath announced that they would start coming home in 18 months.  Here is the relevant quote:
"And as commander-in-chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home."
Wow.  I can't imagine how he could have sounded more reluctant.  Charles Krauthammer on Fox News Special Report described it as "a very strange speech."  Here's more of his analysis:
It was supposed to be a clarion call, a call essentially into battle because these troops are going to be in the field rather imminently.

But it was so hedged and cramped and ambivalent and there was a huge reluctance you could hear in his tone.

On one hand, he sends in the troops, and on the other hand, he says we are leading in 18 months. And as we heard, you can say it's a sop to the left, but we heard his national security adviser today in testimony say the date is fixed one. The withdrawals will start. The only question is conditions will determine the pace of withdrawal.

So James Jones was saying it is a real date. So this is — we will fight them in air, we'll fight them on the beaches, we'll fight them on the field for 18 months and then we start to pack.

That's the reason why I think people are unsure about this. There are a lot of people on the right who think it was OK. They won the policy, and the left won the speech. All the caveats are in a speech, but the president is committed to the surge and his commanders have at least partial victory in what they want.

But the issue is this: Is his heart in it? He spoke about unwavering resolve, and yet he talks about exit. He talks about how the security of the world hangs on this, and yet he had a whole riff in the speech about how we have to look after our economy and how expensive war is and how we have to balance the needs of our country.

That is not a clarion call. It's an uncertain trumpet.
One would reasonably assume that the President of the United States would consult with our allies affected by this important decision prior to announcing it to the world.  It is not apparent that any such notification took place with regard to Pakistan.  This afternoon's Daily Telegraph (UK) has confirmed that Pakistan has warned President Barack Obama that his new Afghanistan strategy has "negative implications" for its internal security.  From the article:
Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, said that America must adjust its approach to ensure that Afghanistan's violence is not pushed over the border.

"We want to guard against any adverse impact of this speech on Pakistan. We are calling for co-ordination and we need a common strategy to minimise the negative implications for Pakistan and the tribal belt," he said. "If the buck is passed over to our side it will push all the miscreants on to our side. Obviously it will destabilise the situation on our side."

Afghanistan's neighbours fear that America will withdraw from the country before Kabul is capable of fending off the Taliban threat. A weak Kabul government incapable of containing the ethnic Pashtun insurgency would be under the constant threat of renewed civil war. In that situation regional powers would be compelled to seek alliances with competing Afghan factions.

Pakistan has demanded American assurances that it won't leave Afghanistan before a functioning democratic government is entrenched. "Their withdrawal has to be linked to the Afghan government being able to take on responsibility. Because of the three decades of conflict a couple of generations have missed normal lives, normal schooling and education," he said. "There are serious limitations on the Afghan side. They have talked about the civilian surge that will undertake reconstruction. This in my view will take time and I think the stepping out should be linked to progress on the ground."
I doubt that it's a coincidence that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai today reiterated his long stated willingness to meet with the Taliban. Of course he issued the caveat that he would get the backing of the U.S. and its partners before pursuing such an effort.  Since the President obviously has both eyes on the exits, that shouldn't be a problem.

In light of its response to Obama's speech, it won't be too surprising if Pakistan starts reaching out to the Taliban in the near future.

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