Pakistani journalist and best-selling author Ahmed Rashid came to Stanford on March 10th to speak on “Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan: A New Direction in US Foreign Policy.” In the event, sponsored by the Abassi Program in Islamic Studies, Rashid analyzed the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and laid out policy recommendations for the Obama administration.
While not stating that he agreed with President Obama that the US was losing the war, Rashid began his talk by explaining the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. His first concern was the reemergence of the Taliban, which began in 2003, and how it has become a model for Pakistan and central Asia. Second, he believes the Taliban’s continued efforts to disrupt the operations of aid organizations will create further anti-NATO sentiment among the Afghani people. Lastly, he commented on the Taliban and Al-Qaida’s expansion into almost every European country, which was not the case prior to 9/11.
Rashid emphasized the role Iraq played in the Afghanistan conflict: “Iraq was an enormous diversion of resources and money, and everything promised to Afghanistan ended up in Iraq.”
Rashid’s main criticism was at the Bush administration’s lack of a comprehensive military strategy that focused on nation building and counter-narcotics. Rashid argues that the US had no comprehensive strategy to rebuild the Afghani army, police force, judicial system and economy. Finally, he criticized the Bush administration’s refusal to address the narcotics problem. According to Rashid, 93% of the world’s heroine comes from Afghanistan, allowing its sale to become the main financial provider of the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
Then, Rashid gave his recommendations to the Obama administration. He began by expressing his approval of the closing of the US prison in Guantanamo. Then, he noted how the US’s current definition of “Islamic jihadist” categorizes all extremists groups as together, alienating the more moderate sectors of these groups. For instance, he believed that Al-Qaida, which has a global agenda, should not be categorized with the Taliban, which only has local aspirations. Rashid added he believed it was not a bad idea for Obama to talk with the Taliban.
In a much-anticipated moment, Rashid expressed his approval of the troop surge. While initially he stated “what is needed is not a troop surge, what is needed is a comprehensive surge,” he believed that troops were necessary in order to more successfully hold secured territories. However, he added this must be done alongside an economic and counter-narcotics strategy.
Rashid concluded his analysis of Afghanistan optimistically, applauding General Petraeus’s “people-centric” approach that focused more on winning that hearts and minds of the Afghani people than on pursuing military goals. He ended by stating that the “majority of Afghanis do not want the Taliban back”
Rashid then turned his attention to Pakistan, a country he contends poses a greater challenge for Obama. “We have in Pakistan three monumental crises that are creating the perfect storm.” These are the rapid spread of Pakistani Taliban across Northern Pakistan, the economic crisis the country is facing, and the “acute political confrontation.”
To address the Pakistan situation, Rashid recommends the US assist Pakistan’s economy by providing $1.5 Billion per year over the next five years. In exchange, Pakistan should commit itself to fighting extremists and adhering to democratic ideals. He acknowledges the challenge the US faces in making sure this money is spent adequately, especially in light of the $11.8 billion given to the Musharraf regime, where, according to Rashid, 80% went to the military, mostly to buy equipment that would instead be used in a possible confrontation with India.
Rashid concluded by highlighting the US’s need to pursue a regional strategy. This includes helping to reduce tensions between Pakistan and India, encouraging China to aid and invest in Afghanistan, and demanding that Iran and Russia do not interfere in the process. However, success in Afghanistan will come at a cost to the US. These include committing to giving up its desire to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan that would undermine Iran and Russia, committing to closing its bases in central Asia, assuring Pakistan that the US will not abandon Pakistan once its leaves Afghanistan, and allowing civilians rather than the Pentagon to dictate policy.
After his lecture, Rashid accepted to take questions. When asked whether he truly expected Afghanistan to become a successful country using traditional strategies, Rashid responded that a minimal state apparatus was sufficient, and that this could be attained in three to four years. Another member of the audience questioned whether the US had the political capital to bring so many Asian countries into the process. Rashid responded that it was doable, adding that the US has already committed to talking with Iran and has started to dialogue seriously about the issue with NATO, China, Pakistan, and India.