Inside the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill Tuesday, there were twodistinctly different hearings on Pakistan. One featured the Obamaadministration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan,Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and it was packed with mainstream media–standing room only. At the conclusion of his testimony–just one floor up from that hearing–the Congressional Progressive Caucus held its fifth forum on Afghanistan, this one focusing on the administration’s Pakistan strategy and how it impacts both countries.
Holbrooke faced very few tough questions–not even on drone strikes. Rep. Lynn Woolsey did press Holbrooke on the fact that 90 percent of the administration’s war supplemental goes towards military expenses, while the counterinsurgency strategy calls for a ratio of 80 percentpolitical and 20 percent military.
“Where is the place for smart power, investing in humanitarian needs andinfrastructure, economy, food, so that we can shore up the people?”Woolsey asked.
“Smart power,” Holbrooke said, “… is exactly what this bill is trying to do.”
“Well, Mr. Ambassador,” Woolsey said, “if the ratio to smart investmentis 1 to 10, with 10 being military investment, I don’t know how we get[there].”
“I don’t think it is 1 to 10 anymore,” Holbrooke said. “It was… Butthis bill is one of a number of bills now in the Congress to correctthat.”
The simple fact is that the funding ratio will not approach what thecounterinsurgency strategy calls for, and one senior congressionalstaffer told me this: “The bottom line is that [the bill] is the samefunding, for the same military efforts, it’s just coming from a StateDepartment account instead of DoD.”
The most outspoken critic of the escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistanwas Republican Congressman Ron Paul. “It just seems like we never learnfrom our past mistakes,” he said. “It’s going to cost a lot of moneyand it’s going to cost a lot of lives…. And the odds of it working areso slim…. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’reseen as invaders and occupiers… I’d like to know where you stand onthe killing of innocent Pashtuns…?
Holbrooke didn’t answer Paul’s question — which was the ONLY questionof the hearing that (sort of) challenged the use of drones andairstrikes.
Instead, he said, “Afghanistan-Pakistan is not Iraq…. The reason weare in this area is because the people in this area attacked our countryon September 11th, 2001 and have stated flatly they intend to do itagain.”
Democratic Rep. David Scott asked, “What is our end game and our exitstrategy ?”
“… There’s a difference between an exit strategy and an exittimetable, and we have defined our strategy but we certainly can’t put atimetable on it,” failing yet again to articulate anexit strategy.
It would have been smart if Holbrooke or even one person from themainstream media feeding frenzy had ventured upstairs to the ProgressiveCaucus forum. There, the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to GreatBritain, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, offered this wise advice once given bya British General who was a veteran of wars in the frontier area: “Whenyou invade Pashtun areas, have a good exit strategy with you, becausesooner or later you are going to need it.” Having also served as thehead of two civil agencies in the tribal areas and completed a doctoralthesis there, Ahmed has a kind of expertise and intimacy with the issuesthat Holbrooke certainly doesn’t.
Ahmed’s frustration with both the Pakistan government and the US foreignpolicy was palpable. He said Obama was “absolutely right” when hecalled Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on theAfghan border “the most dangerous place in the world today,” and hisfrustration stems from what he sees as a completely wrong strategy indealing with it.
Ahmed said the tribes in the area have a sense of history, pride anddignity and live on both sides of the border — “if something happens onthis side of the border, it impacts on that side” — and they areconnected by kinship, politics and religion. “A successful strategy todeal with them [is] not — I repeat, not — to take them head on…sending troops, throwing grenades and missiles, or sending in airplanesand tanks….. The best strategy for them [is] to work through tribalorganizations, tribal networks, tribal leadership…. [It requires] bothstrength and skill — strength alone will not do. And we see theconsequences of just a military strategy….”
Indeed the approach over the past decade has been a military one. Theresult, Ahmed said, is that authority in the region once shared by”three pillars” — central government, tribal authority, and religiousclerics — is now left with only the clerics who have “morphed intoTaliban.”
Ahmed, said that Pakistan needs to begin by reestablishing the authorityof the state and restoring tribal authority. He said Pakistan — withthe encouragement of the US — is attempting to do that through militarymeans alone rather than through “what remains of the tribal leadershipand civil structure.” He said if the state worked through the tribalstructure there would be “resistance to the Taliban, not from up 30,000feet in the sky, right on the ground….”
Another key to success in the border region that Holbrooke didn’t touchon is reformation of the madrassas. Ahmed said much of US aid should beearmarked for education, and half of that to the madrassas. Madrassasare the network of education for the tribes, and if they are closed downby the government there will be “hundreds of thousands of young menready to fight a religious war against the Americans.” Reform throughaid, Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans serving as advisors andteachers, new syllabi and teacher training — these are the kinds ofsteps that would bring change and long-term security.
“After 8 years of giving Pakistan money — $17 billion or $15 billion since 9/11 — what have you achieved?” Ahmed asked. “Had you put 10 percent of this intomadrassas by now young men… who are [now] prepared to fight you…would be wanting jobs and to be part of the process…. And they wouldwant to resist those who want to disrupt their society…. The one thingevery Pakistani wants for his kids is education…. Within one to threeyears you will turn that entire region around. The greatest enemies ofthe Americans will become their allies.” (Another witness — AzharHussain, of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy –pointed out that less than 1 percent of US aid went to the FATA regionin the past 6 years.)
Finally, Ahmed spoke plainly of the drone strikes: “My advice is this…please, please don’t…. The drone strikes… are verycounterproductive.” He said the former top advisor to General Petraeus– David Kilcullen “>– has it right. Hussain noted that there have been 61 drone attacks “in the last few years”, and only 10 have hit the intended target. The result? 798 civilians killed and “less than about 50 insurgents.”
“That is a large number of innocent people getting killed by droneattacks,” he said. “That creates an incredible amount of incitement andrage in the Pakistani community.”
As to the issue of escalation in Afghanistan, Ahmed had this to say:
“When there are more American deaths — alas, because these young menand women are out there serving their nation, they’ve got families –when these deaths take place, what message is it sending to thetribesman…? The message [is]: ‘Guys, continue this, rally around,because we are now on a winning streak.’ And what message is it sendingto Taliban…? It’s 60 miles now from Islamabad! It’s saying, ‘Guys,continue doing this. The Americans can’t last….’ If that mood takeshold — don’t you see how difficult it becomes for us — talking aboutrecreating structures? There’s no hope. You might as well hand it overto the Taliban.”
This expertise and candor–from Pakistanis who have devoted theirlives to a region we are further destabilizing with this escalation –was sorely lacking at the Holbrooke hearing. Tell Congress to demandwhat Holbrooke didn’t give them–an exit strategy .
With reporting from Capitol Hill by Nation Reporter/Researcher GregKaufmann