Who's Running Afghan Policy?
Until this past March, Maureen Quinn, who had been US ambassador to Qatar, was the State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan. But she, too, did not wield much influence. After she left the post the Administration appointed no successor. Instead, her duties were split among four State Department officials: Richard Boucher, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and three of his deputies. But Boucher's bureau is responsible for thirteen countries, including Pakistan, India and Kazakhstan. The Afghanistan and Central Asia brief was added to his bureau only this past February. "The coordination issue has been up in the air for some time," says Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, "and there is less money now. And the country is facing the consequences."
In Washington the bottom line in dollars usually represents the bottom line in policy, and US funding for reconstruction and security assistance in Afghanistan has been on the decline. From fiscal year 2005 to the next, it fell from $4.3 billion to $3 billion. The Administration's request for 2007 funding is $1.2 billion. Of that only about $800 million is tagged for reconstruction and development. "You can't rebuild a country for $1 billion," notes a senior Democratic staffer in the Senate. "To me it says we're just going to hope that things get better without making the necessary commitment." And Congress has not treated Afghanistan as a top-of-the-list concern. (Senate majority leader Bill Frist recently said that the Taliban and their allies ought to be brought into the government. His office later claimed he had meant to refer only to tribal Afghans possibly sympathetic to the Taliban.)
Not only is there no one at the helm of the underfunded policy; the Bush Administration has been unable to forge a consistent approach to the critical issue of Pakistan and the Taliban. In June Ambassador Neumann sidestepped a question about whether Pakistan was supporting the Taliban. In August Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the US Central Command, said that he "absolutely does not believe" that Pakistan has been colluding with the Taliban. But in September Marine Gen. James Jones, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, which has just assumed command of the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, told a Senate committee that it was "generally accepted" that the Taliban maintain their headquarters in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. That would suggest that Pakistan--or elements within its government--is assisting the Taliban. (On October 7 Pakistani police arrested more than forty Taliban suspects, but said they had nabbed no significant Taliban.)
How should the Bush Administration deal with the thorny matter of Pakistan and the Taliban? The Afghanistan desks at the State Department and the National Security Council ponder this and other issues daily, but nongovernment Afghanistan watchers say they see few, if any, signs that senior Administration officials are fully grappling with this dicey subject and the other challenges of Afghanistan.
"The most sensible conversations I have are with three- and four-star generals on the ground there," Rubin says. "The diplomats--they recycle through and have no experience in the area. Everyone in the region assumes that the United States is not serious about succeeding in Afghanistan." Robert Oakley, a former career foreign service officer who was ambassador to Pakistan, notes, "In 2004 I saw a huge surge of interest in the White House, with the President getting directly involved. Now I see less interest. I feel less hopeful. People coming back from Afghanistan are not optimistic." Richard Lugar, Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently said at a hearing that the problems in Afghanistan have "become so daunting that there is a feeling, not of confusion or frustration, but of almost general despair."
In September George W. Bush brought Karzai and Musharraf to Washington for a dinner together. With the two bickering in dueling CNN interviews over the Taliban matter, Bush remarked, "It will be interesting for me to watch the body language of these two leaders to determine how tense things are." (Referring to that comment, Armitage exclaims, "I didn't believe it. This is not a high school football game.") There was no immediate indication Bush achieved much during the meal. But the day before, the President told Karzai, "I know there are some in your country who wonder whether or not America has got the will to do the hard work necessary to help you succeed. We have got that will." Perhaps. But no one to do the work.