Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is right to worry about perpetual war, but wrong to worry about drones killing Americans in America. His concerns about domestic drone strikes unfortunately obscured a far more pressing debate about how to manage and regulate surveillance via drones and other techniques such as wiretaps and Internet traffic monitoring.
The truth is, drones are not actually all that good at killing people, nor at bringing them to justice. The reason they are used in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia is because no better alternatives are readily available. Within the United States, the president has far more capable means at his disposal for using force. In terms of surveillance, however, drones are among the most effective tools in existence.
During his 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday, Paul proposed a resolution against the use of drones to "execute or target American citizens on American soil." The resolution is superfluous because the chief limitation on the use of drones is how well they work -- not legal, moral, ethical, or constitutional considerations.
The question is not what drones themselves are capable of, but how those capabilities compare to the alternatives available to military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials. Compared to other means the American government has at its disposal for the domestic use of force, a drone-launched missile is a crude, blunt, and ineffective instrument. It is not possible to deploy the FBI to Pakistan's tribal areas or to rural Yemen. Drones are being used in these countries because they provide a capability that is better, in the eyes of the national security apparatus, than the alternatives of inaction or bombing from manned aircraft.
The reason for "signature strikes" in Pakistan and Yemen -- where patterns of behavior are targeted instead of specific individuals -- is because of a paucity of information. It is far easier for the U.S. government to gather information inside the United States than it is in Waziristan.
Drones, will, of course, grow more technologically capable of flying for a longer time, seeing with keener sight, and aiming explosives still more precisely. But even the apotheosis of these efforts will do no more than replicate the abilities of a trained sniper. There is no reason to be more fearful of a drone-based assassin than one armed with a rifle. The same existing laws and norms that prevent the president from capriciously bombing, say, Texas or ordering commando squads to assassinate American citizens, also apply to domestic drone attacks.
During his filibuster, Paul worried that the government might "kill people in America without even knowing their name." This worry is baseless. National security hawks can save face by agreeing that using drones to kill American citizens in the United States would be wrong and unconstitutional. But other infringements on constitutionally protected freedoms are not notional. By grandstanding on the issue of drone attacks, Paul loses the credibility that he and other advocates for limitations on the executive's power need to hold the president to account on the use of present-day surveillance technologies.
Unfettered surveillance from drones would be useful to law enforcement, just as it would be useful to not require search warrants. It is easy to convince the military, and law enforcement authorities, to give up capabilities that were never that useful to begin with. This is why the United States ratified the international treaty banning chemical weapons with comparatively little controversy -- chemical weapons never were all that effective as a tool of war (there was a heated debate about tear gas, which is useful). But the international treaty against land mines remains unsigned despite decades of effort by human rights advocates (and a Nobel Peace Prize), because land mines are seen as a useful force multiplier. The true challenge is to place limitations on tools that are genuinely useful to authorities but whose use infringes on the rights of citizens.
As the ACLU's Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump have written, the domestic use of drones by various state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies is already widespread, and is not effectively regulated. "Because of their potential for pervasive use in ordinary law enforcement operations and capacity for revealing far more than the naked eye, drones pose a more serious threat to privacy than do manned flights," they wrote in a 2011 report. Since then, the domestic use of surveillance drones has only increased, with only a scant patchwork of regulation by some states. (Bills have been introduced into the legislatures, though not yet passed, in Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, Montana, and Texas, according to the ACLU.) None of those state-level regulations would restrict federal efforts.
The 5th Amendment's due process protections are not at risk from drones within America's borders for the simple reason that drones are an ineffective tool for bringing people to justice -- as was shown when Navy SEALs were sent to apprehend Osama bin Laden, rather than a drone. But the power of drones that can loiter indefinitely overhead, tracking the past and future movements of all who pass below, is real. The questions of how the 4th Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches applies to drones, and of privacy concerns more broadly, are vexing ones that Senator Paul can help us, as a nation, come to terms with.
Konstantin Kakaes is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and can be found on Twitter @kkakaes.
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Viewers watching the Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel Thursday could be forgiven for forgetting that America is at war.
Apparently, so did their senators.
In a marathon hearing that spanned eight hours, several Senate votes and one lunch break, Hagel's past statements and future outlook on Iran and the state of Israel won far more airtime than a conflict in which 66,000 US troops now serve. More time was spent discussing the appropriateness of talking with the leaders of Iran, with whom we are not currently at war, than the feasibility of talking to the leaders of the Taliban, with whom we presumably are. (Vice President Joe Biden noted a little over a year ago that the "Taliban per se is not our enemy.")
As the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekran tweeted, "At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali."
In the hearing's second session the word Afghanistan received only one mention.
In their curious mix of apathy and amnesia concerning America's longest-ever war, senators on both sides reflect the views of the American public. Polling shows more than sixty percent of Americans no longer think the war is worth its cost. CNN notes that in a fall CNN/ORC International poll not even five percent named Afghanistan as "one of the most important issues facing" America. And fifty-one percent of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the war was "not worth it.
The recent presidential campaign also made precious little mention of the war still being fought and for which National Guard units continue to deploy. The President talked about bringing a "responsible end" to the war while Vice President Joe Biden repeated throughout the summer and fall that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive." On the Republican side Clint Eastwood and his empty chair mentioned Afghanistan more than GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
As former Amb. Ronald Neumann noted recently at the Brookings Institution, the debate around the war's future "has been completely ignored in the electoral period, and it is being framed all too much in bumper sticker phrases, which simply are idiotic ways of trying to understand the complexity of Afghanistan."
Americans and politicking officials have clearly developed a habit of ignoring America's decade-long war, but it is curious to see the next Secretary of Defense receive so few inquiries from senators about the war whose end he will presumably oversee in the coming years. A thorny rash of unpleasant questions surrounding Afghanistan's future confront the president and the Pentagon's next chief. These include: how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan, how to define their mission, how generously to fund the Afghan forces and at what levels, and whether and how to proceed with peace talks with the Taliban.
None of those issues, however, sat in the spotlight at Thursday's hearing.
To those few questions Hagel did receive on Afghanistan he offered vague and decidedly noncommittal answers, aside from noting that he fully supports the president's current policy to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. But on the issue of post-2014 troop levels -of both American forces and the Afghan Army - Hagel said he did not want to speculate regarding exact numbers because he had not been aware of all conversations between President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"As far as I know, as of this morning the president had not -- not made a decision on what a residual force, numbers-wise, would look like. I have not been included in those discussions, so I don't know, other than knowing that he's got a range of options, as you do," Hagel said regarding US troop levels. "As to what kind of a force structure should eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you a good answer, other than to say that I think that has to be a decision that is made, certainly, with the president of Afghanistan."
In 2008 then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama called Afghanistan the war "that we have to win." Now it is the war everyone wants to forget. Except those who cannot: on the same day as Hagel testified, the Kentucky National Guard announced it would hold two "departure ceremonies" for soldiers preparing for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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NATO's plan to transition Afghanistan to Afghan security control by the end
of 2014 offers an unexpected but potentially golden opportunity for the United States
and its allies to rectify, or at least improve, their strategy towards Pakistan.
In the midst of major budget cuts and a reorientation of our global footprint
away from Iraq and Afghanistan, Western leaders -- and particularly the U.S.
Congress -- are already tempted to reduce support to a country that can at best be
considered a fair-weather friend. But over the next several years, the
United States and NATO will be offered a chance to help Pakistan establish a
functioning civil society without the complications of a Western-led counterinsurgency
campaign across the border.
One benefit of reducing NATO's military presence in Afghanistan is that it will make it easier for the U.S. and allied governments to support entities in Pakistan in addition to the Government of Pakistan itself, particularly non-governmental organizations. At the same time, it will make accepting that assistance more palatable to Pakistanis, many of whom believe NATO's war has wrought violence and destruction upon their country. While foreign aid is far from guaranteed to achieve its intended results in Pakistan (or anywhere), effective assistance to Pakistan's civil society, in combination with increased access to foreign markets and improvements in security, is the tool most likely to help Pakistanis slow the slide toward failed nuclear statehood. With a fast-growing population of disenfranchised and radicalized youth, that scenario represents a clear threat to Western interests as well as Pakistan itself.
Over the course of a ten-year war in Afghanistan, the United States and allied governments steadily increased assistance to the government of Pakistan, reducing it only after the death of Osama bin Laden and Pakistan's indignant response. From the United States alone, direct overt aid and military reimbursements ballooned from $1.99 billion in 2002 to $4.29 billion in 2010. This number dropped to $2.37 billion in 2011 following a slow deterioration of relations that hit rock-bottom with the bin Laden raid on May 2 and has continued to slip over issues like NATO supply lines and cross-border incidents. The majority of this decrease has been made up of security assistance, and specifically Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which are used to reimburse Pakistan for military operations undertaken in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, the United States was explicit in its statements of expectations for Pakistani cooperation, and confidence in Pakistan's support for U.S. efforts ran high through early 2002. By early 2003, however, President Karzai was intimating that Pakistan might be behind some Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, or at least that Pakistan harbored those who were conducting them. The U.S. press was regularly reporting such accusations - including cryptic quotes from anonymous U.S. officials -- by mid-2004, and in July 2008, U.S. officials were all but confirming that Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was supporting Taliban groups.
Thus, the majority of U.S. assistance was ultimately provided
in spite of what many perceived as a contradiction between what Pakistan said
("we're on your side in Afghanistan; your terrorists are our
terrorists"), and what their actions seemed to convey ("we are
primarily concerned with our terrorists and may go as far as supporting those
who attack your soldiers if it will protect our interests in Kabul").
These misgivings were felt broadly inside the U.S. government, reaching as high
as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who, after
years of staunch support for Pakistan, famously called the Haqqani Network a "veritable
arm of the ISI." But Pakistan's military cooperation along the border
combined with critical assistance on counterterrorism made providing almost
anything worth the cost, even while many knew the assistance relationship was
This calculus must shift as NATO reduces its footprint in Afghanistan. The United States and NATO will still need the Government of Pakistan's cooperation on certain issues, particularly counterterrorism, but also ensuring supplies reach the Special Operations and intelligence personnel remaining in Afghanistan after the bulk of the forces withdraw. Maintaining good relations with the military and civilian leadership is critical, because they are important regional actors and arbiters of access for personnel, official and otherwise. Improving the Pakistan military's ability to control its territory will also remain important as long as insurgent groups - not to mention al-Qaeda - continue to use it as a safe haven. But overall the United States and its allies will need those entities less, making it easier to diversify who receives aid in the country. Certainly it will be a challenge to maintain these relationships while diverting assistance from the military and/or civilian government to other groups within Pakistan. But as long as we are careful to avoid supporting groups that the Government of Pakistan views as active threats (i.e., opposing political parties, Christian groups, or organizations associated with India), there is no reason the United States, its allies, and private aid organizations cannot provide assistance to groups outside the formal government structure and/or military. In fact, this is the United States' foreign assistance model in many other countries around the world.
States and its allies will also have more leeway to negotiate access for
personnel who can oversee implementation and increase transparency. For example, the Government of Pakistan has
been circumspect about allowing U.S.
and other foreign personnel to directly implement assistance programs and
military training, with obvious effects on donors' ability to verify how and
where money is spent. Past efforts to
use assistance as leverage to gain necessary access have been somewhat
successful, but have floundered during periods of escalated tensions. If the United States and NATO are less
dependent on Pakistan to support operations in Afghanistan, and if
Afghanistan-related tensions are even partially diffused, they will be better
positioned to require access and transparency in return for aid.
The future stability of Pakistan is reliant on a viable civilian leadership capable and willing to address the needs of its people. With a population of more than 180 million growing by 50 million over the next 15 years, the political elite's inability to address a chronic lack of education and basic services is setting the conditions for major civil unrest accompanied by sectarian violence and instability. Current efforts to remedy these problems are underfunded and plagued by administrative and logistical problems, making the likelihood of effective progress slim without outside help. And in a country with rampant Islamic extremism and a fast-growing nuclear arsenal, the current trajectory makes Pakistan - already a dangerous place - even more ominous on the world stage.
nations' ability to change Pakistan's
overall course is limited. There is,
however, reason to be hopeful. There
were an estimated 100,000 non-profit
organizations operating in Pakistan as of 2009, a large percentage of which are
locally-funded and could have greater impact with the help of foreign
funding. In a less contentious future
environment, the United States and its allies could provide assistance to some
of these groups, as well as work through international organizations and
encourage foreign investment and private donations. While the U.S. Congress and allied
governments are justified in remembering Pakistan's indiscretions over the
course of the Afghan war, it is the responsibility of those nations' leaders to
win over lawmakers and their constituents on why an unstable Pakistan only
means more turbulence for the region and beyond.
These non-profit organizations and other parts of Pakistani civil society, including its long-stifled but not non-existent private sector, may have a chance of improving conditions in the country, drawing on the support of the moderate majority. Pakistani and international charitable organizations are making a small dent in the massive problem set Pakistani confronts, particularly in the realm of education. But there is one fact that Western policy-makers are going to have to accept: many of these players hold Islamist and anti-Western views. As we learned in Egypt and other Arab Spring nations, we cannot expect entities to represent the people of a Muslim nation and not embody some Islamic values. This fact in itself does not make that group extremist or an enemy of the West.
should apply this new understanding to future engagement with Pakistan, while
remaining aware of both the sensitivities of the Government of Pakistan and
those of the U.S. Congress, who remain the stewards of U.S. tax-payer dollars. If the United States, NATO, and Pakistan can
use the Afghan drawdown to reduce tensions and improve security, if only
marginally, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has the potential to more closely
resemble the peace-time relationships maintained with other nations in South
Asia and elsewhere. This would encompass
a balance of international assistance (both through government structures and
non-profits, keeping in line with host nation priorities), free and balanced
trade relationships, and help in developing a dynamic political and economic
Conveniently, the drawdown in Afghanistan also makes it easier for many Pakistani groups to work with Western groups and governments. Many Pakistanis are quick to blame Pakistan's domestic problems on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's participation in it. Whether or not this is based in reality, those perceptions drive politics within Pakistan. As the United States and NATO reduce their military presence in the region, Pakistani officials will be less able to blame Western actions for their domestic problems. At the same time, the population will increasingly focus on day-to-day survival rather than regional matters, and non-profits will increasingly seek civilian assistance for their country. The West can meet those calls and gain much good will at a reasonable cost.
Based on its own national and strategic interests, Pakistan has been a tentative ally in the Afghan war. But the United States and its allies cannot write off the population of Pakistan for the shortcomings of its political system. In fact, to do so poses much greater long-term risks, the mitigation of which requires a nation moving towards economic viability whose problems are not spilling into the world around it. Failure to maintain international support to Pakistan means discarding a real chance for progress by walking away before the real work has begun.
Whitney Kassel is a former Assistant for Counterterrorism Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC), and now serves as a director at The Arkin Group.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
In the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner claims that "current U.S. policy toward Pakistan has failed" and recommends that the United States take a radically different approach: credibly threaten to sever all forms of cooperation, including all U.S. aid - military and civilian - to force Pakistan into cooperating with the United States on security matters. Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall responds.
Stephen Krasner ("Talk Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad's Defiance," Jan/Feb 2012) wants to change the Pakistani government's behavior. He argues that its failure to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan and on terrorism is not due to its weakness as a state. Instead, it is a rational response of Pakistan's military leadership, whose priority is to defend itself against India - with a nuclear deterrent and support for terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, the only way the United States can win cooperation from Pakistan is to threaten "malign neglect"- cut off military and civilian assistance, sever intelligence cooperation, maintain and possibly escalate drone strikes and initiate unilateral cross-border raids. If that isn't enough, then the U.S. could move on to "active isolation" -- declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, making it a pariah, and impose sanctions.
If only it were this easy. Krasner fails to mention that the U.S. has tried this approach before. In the 1990s it cut off military and civilian assistance to Pakistan and imposed sanctions in an effort to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear capability. We all know how that story ended. But let's suppose this time the threats or the follow-through worked and brought the military and intelligence establishment to heel in Pakistan. Let's suppose the United States got what it wanted on the security front - helping assure a timely U.S and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Would that solve the problem Pakistan poses for America's security in the long run? No.
What Krasner doesn't say is that the U.S. wants something more than compliance from Pakistan's military and intelligence communities with its immediate security needs. The U.S. wants a capable and stable civilian government that plays by the rules of the international community. It wants a democratic state that would not abuse and misuse its nuclear capability and that would find its way to peaceful relations with India.
In other words the U.S. has a long-run vision for Pakistan, very much in its own interests, as well as a set of short-term demands. In the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (known as Kerry-Lugar Berman, or KLB) Congress recognized the resulting need for a two-track approach. That legislation made U.S. security assistance (not actually authorized in the legislation) conditional on Pakistani cooperation on security matters. But its fundamental purpose, and the money it authorized for civilian aid, was the rebuilding of a serious partnership with the civilian government and the people of Pakistan. With KLB as the framework, since 2009 the Obama Administration has engaged fully with the civilian government and with civil society and private sector leaders in Pakistan on a range of issues -- energy, water, agriculture, macroeconomic issues, private investment and trade.
In short, the purpose of U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan is to help build a better state. It is not to bribe or reward the "government" (neither the military nor the civilian leadership). Withholding military aid would likely not punish the military anyway. It would, however, reduce the resources available to the civilian government, since the evidence is that the military can get what it wants from the government's overall available resources. And withholding civilian aid obviously would not punish the military. It would, however, take away a modest tool of America - investing to educate kids, create jobs, and strengthen civil society and representative institutions and thus give Pakistan a better shot at becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country in the long term.
There are of course real questions about the effectiveness of U.S engagement with the civilian government - with aid and dialogue - given the prevailing suspicion there of U.S. motives, the inherent difficulties of operating in a complex and insecure environment, and the bureaucratic shortcomings of the U.S. aid system itself. But then those are reasons to put relatively more emphasis on other forms of engagement: trade, investment, and encouraging the normalization of relations with India. They do not warrant bullying the weak civilian government that the U.S. wants to strengthen.
Krasner begins and ends his article by invoking the testimony of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during his last appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Krasner is right in pointing out that Mullen was critical of Pakistan's role in supporting extremist organizations and the need to get tough with Pakistan. Yet, Krasner fails to mention the conclusion Mullen reached in his statement. Mullen recognized that the U.S. has a variety of objectives in Pakistan and the region, and that by focusing too intensely on short term interests, the U.S. will end up short-changing itself over the long haul: "We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan's success - to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security." Mullen concludes, "Isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive."
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC based think tank.
KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/Getty Images
As Yogi Berrafamously put it, "It's déjà vu all over again." Amid a looming budget standoff,a presidential election cycle in full swing, and the popular dissatisfaction ofboth the left and the right, the United States has arrived -- yet again -- at acritical juncture in its war in Afghanistan, with key decisions being debatedconcerning the post-surge scenario and the prospects of political reconciliationwith various militant groups. The tragedy is that, much like its previousiterations, the current round of the Afghanistan debate in Washington isriddled with a staggering number of mischaracterizations. While the Cold Warproduced a cohort of able Soviet specialists, the decade-long war inAfghanistan has so far failed to produce sufficientregional expertise in the United States (this reasonably comprehensive list, for example,identifies just 107 Afghanistan-watchers in the United States).
Consequently, anumber of questionable assumptions about the Afghan people -- concerning theirattitudes to foreigners, their history, their society, and their values -- gounchallenged. Historicalanalogiesand socioeconomicdata are regularly manipulated by various parties to validate their ownbiases and preconceptions, and readingsof Afghan historyare, when not completely erroneous, unapologeticallyWestern-centric. For example, onecommon view that has gainedcirculation among think-tankers, policymakers, and congressional staffersis that a majority of Afghans are inherently hostile to the United States. Yet this viewpoint is not borne out by polling data, however imperfect. Thelast pollconducted by ABC News, the BBC and, ARD German TV, for example, says that nearlyseven in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S. forces in their country.
Another and perhapsmore damaging misperception is of Afghanistan as the "graveyardof empires": a historically insignificant strategic backwater where greatcivilizations -- inevitably European ones -- ended up mired in ruinous war. Buteven a cursory examination of the region's history makes a mockery of this nowentrenched concept. During his conquests, Alexander of Macedon spent about twoyears solidifyinghis control of what is today Afghanistan and Central Asia, referred to inhis day as Bactria and Sogdiana. In fact, his army chose to reverse its coursein today's Punjab, over 200 miles to modern Afghanistan's east, afterthe Battleof the Hydaspes. The 19th-century British Empire, despitean initial setback, wonsubsequent engagements against the Afghans in its bid to create a bufferzone to British India's northwest. And the defeat of the Soviet military in the1980s was only made possible with American,Pakistani, and Saudi support.
The "graveyard of empires" canard also largely ignores non-Western history. Ancient and medievalAfghanistan was in fact at the heart of a number of major civilizations,including the GreekBactrian states; the KushanEmpire, which was a contemporary of imperial Rome; and, from the 10th to 12th centuries, the Ghaznavidsultanate, whoserulers made regular military forays into the subcontinent. The great MughalEmpire, at its zenith perhaps the most prosperous realm on Earth, had itsfoundations in what is today's Afghanistan, when its progenitor Baburestablished a presence in the region between Kabul and Peshawar. Count, on topof all this, several centuries of sustained Persian rule over the region.
In addition topopular misconceptions of Afghan xenophobia and historical backwardness, argumentsare regularly setforth about theincompatibility of Afghan societywith democracy.Although Afghanistan does have a history of underdeveloped democraticinstitutions, there are many reasons to question this blanket assessment.Definitional problems certainly persist: For many rural Afghans, democracyconnotes unlimited freedoms, rather than responsible and self-determinedgovernance. During the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet forces and their Afghan clientsoften called themselves democrats, further adding to confusion about the termin the minds of many Afghans. At the same time, there are mechanisms -- shuras,jirgas -- that, though hardly Jeffersonian, are analogous to the town hallsthat formed the bedrock of early American democracy. In this year's edition ofthe reasonably reliable Asia Foundation surveyof Afghanistan -- which polled 6,348 Afghans from all 34 provinces -- anoverwhelming 69 percent of Afghans polled say they are satisfied with the waydemocracy works in Afghanistan.
Ethnic politics isanother common source of confusion, with regular calls now heard inWashington for a soft partition of the state, creating a Taliban-dominated "Pashtunistan" separated from a confederation of provinces dominated by ethnicTajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Soft partitions, which were also advocatedin the case of Iraq not that long ago by U.S. Vice President JoeBiden, may appear to be easy and seductive solutions to pacifying complexpost-colonial societies overrun by civil war. But among otherproblems, they present a moral quandary, implicitly (thoughunintentionally) opening the door to ethnic cleansing. A cursory look athistory tells us that the partition of mixed political entities has almostalways been accompanied or preceded by ethnic cleansing or immense sectarianviolence: Consider India, Palestine, Bosnia, or Cyprus. Afghanistan'spopulation is heterogeneous, and given the commitment to establishing apluralistic and democratic state, calls for the country's de facto or de jurepartition appear both irresponsible and impractical.
Just as there areseveral peculiar narratives about Afghan society and history in steadycirculation, thereis also growing skepticism aboutthe United States' abilityto prosecute theAfghanistan war, with enormousdivergences between official U.S. and Afghanperspectives. One reason often cited for limiting the United States'involvement is the financial burden that the Afghanistan war represents in an era ofausterity. But according to the Congressional ResearchService, the war in Afghanistan will cost the United States an estimated$114 billion this year, a mere 3 percent of the federal budget, and a muchsmaller fraction of the American economy. This appears to be a small investmentrelative to the importance to American foreign policy and national security ofgetting Afghanistan right.
Somecommentators make theargument that the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to other forms of securitycompetition, particularly in East Asia -- that, in essence, the continued U.S.involvement in Afghanistan distracts from looming threats to U.S. securityposed by other great powers such as China. This is questionable for at leasttwo reasons. Firstly, other major powers -- including China, India, Russia, andIran, all of whom see Afghanistan as part of their extended neighborhoods -- areclosely watching developments affecting the U.S. position there. Americansuccess or failure will resonate in Moscow and Beijing, as well as New Delhiand Tehran. Secondly, the United States is not confronted with a binary choicebetween prosecuting the Afghanistan war and retaining a military presence againstmajor state threats. The United States has faced multiple security challengesbefore; the resources required to tackle them are quite different from oneanother; and U.S. military resources dedicated to securing Europe and theAsia-Pacific region have been steadilydeclining regardlessof investments in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is widely believed today inWashington that the Taliban enjoy popularpublic support, particularly among the ethnic Pashtun population ofAfghanistan. If true, it is certainly not reinforced by extant survey data. Noris the Afghan public weary of the United States' intensified involvement. Accordingto the Asia Foundation survey, aplurality of Afghans (46 percent) believes that the country is headed in the rightdirection, compared with 35 percent who believe otherwise. What is even moreencouraging, only 11 percent of Afghans have a lot of sympathy for armed opposition groups,half the proportion who expressed similar sentiments two years ago. In that sameperiod, those who have "no sympathy at all" for the Taliban have almost doubledto 64 percent of the population. Despite frustrations with the ability of the currentgovernment to deliver, Afghans express optimism about democracy as a principle,associating it most closely with peace and freedom. The United States, suchpolls clearly reveal, should not fool itself with undue pessimism. Its effortsare gradually beginning to bear fruit.
Currently,Afghanistan's fledgling state, though challenged frequently by security, governance,and development problems, has an elected government and an internationalpresence to contribute to the work of nation-building. Despite the ongoinginsurgency, widespread corruption, and the daily risk of arbitrary orextrajudicial killing, the Afghan people continue to strive for normalcy intheir day-to-day lives and hope for peace and prosperity in the future. Withthat in mind, the pontification of a few pundits and the exigencies ofnear-term politics should not lead to poor or rash decision-making. A balancedview of Afghan public opinion, history, culture, and politics -- and, just asimportantly, of the United States' ability to shape these factors in advancingits national security interests -- is crucial as Washington debates a decisionthat will have important regional and international implications for decades tocome.
JavidAhmad, a native of Kabul, is program coordinator and Dhruva Jaishankar is program officer with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates in Washington, D.C. The views reflected here are their own.
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
Since it was first reported last Friday, the news out of South Asia has been dominated by speculation that Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and reportedly al-Qaeda's operational leader in Pakistan, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Kashmiri's reported death, still shrouded in mystery, comes on the heels of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's unannounced visit to Islamabad and subsequent meetings with the civilian and military leadership, meetings which reportedly led to the reports about an "imminent" military operation into Pakistan's unruly province of North Waziristan. Yet Kashmiri's death remains, at this point, more rumor than fact, and its timing and context make the news of his demise at best suspicious for any Pakistan observer.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Since passage of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act in October 2009 (aka the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, or KLB), the United States has worked with a variety of Pakistani partners to begin to put programs in place that address the Act's objective -- improving the living conditions of the people of Pakistan through sustainable economic development, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and combating the extremism that threatens Pakistan and the United States. For example, the United States is helping to complete and rehabilitate power facilities that will add over 500MW to Pakistan's power grid by the end of this year, easing power shortages that cripple the economy and reduce the quality of life for ordinary Pakistanis. A dramatic U.S. assistance program helped save the winter wheat crop -- averting a food crisis for millions of Pakistanis --after the devastating floods of 2010. Since the KLB Act was passed, the U.S. government has disbursed $1.7 billion of civilian assistance funds in Pakistan.
John Moore/Getty Images
For nearly two years, the United States has been trying something completely new in Pakistan. In 2009, with President Obama's backing, Congress passed a bold piece of legislation that committed the United States to support Pakistan's people and its economy, as opposed to focusing almost exclusively on the country's military. The United States would try to help Pakistanis entrench the transition to democracy they won in 2008, and -- for the first time -- it seemed the United States would place an equal emphasis on long-term development and short-term stability in Pakistan.
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Behind closed doors
In a rare and at times heated joint session of Pakistan's parliament that stretched late into the night Friday, Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha and other military leaders briefed the assembled members on the May 2 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, defending the role Pakistan has played in dismantling al-Qaeda while also reportedly offering to resign his post if asked (NYT, ET, TIME, Post, WSJ, Geo). Pasha strongly critiqued the United States, reportedly revealing that he got into a shouting match with CIA director Leon Panetta last time he was in Washington, and telling the parliamentarians that, "At every difficult moment in our history, the U.S. has let us down... This fear that we can't live without the U.S. is wrong" (McClatchy, NYT, ET). Pasha also reportedly said that he sought a formal agreement with the CIA over intelligence sharing and other forms of cooperation (Dawn).
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Please join the AfPak Channel at 1:00pm EST TODAY for a live chat
with Frontline journalists Stephen Grey and Shoaib Sharifi on
Frontline's new documentary, "Kill/Capture" (FP).
The Rack: Steve Coll, "The Outlaw," David Remnick, "Exit bin Laden," Dexter Filkins, "Already Dead," Jon Lee Anderson, "Force and Futility," and Eliza Griswold, "House Tour," all in The New Yorker.
Reuters reports that according to current and former U.S. officials, both the Obama and Bush administrations "repeatedly" indicated to Pakistan that they would send U.S. forces into Pakistan if the White House obtained information that deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was hiding in the country (Reuters). The officials note that this warning amounted to an "understanding" of a potential U.S. incursion.
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The death of Osama bin Laden will raise the inevitable question: What are we still doing in Afghanistan? The answer, of course, is that the mission in Afghanistan is about something bigger and more ambitious than eliminating Al Qaeda's leaders-most of whom, in any event, are probably living in Pakistan, as bin Laden was when the United States finally tracked him down. No, the mission in Afghanistan isn't about killing Al Qaeda members. It's about stabilizing the country so that it can never again serve as the hotbed of extremism that it was until 2001, with all of the attendant national security and human rights problems that resulted.
But that in turn raises other questions: Is it worth prolonging a war that has stretched on for nearly ten years for that broader goal? And perhaps the most difficult question of all: Even if that goal is worth fighting for, is it actually achievable?
Over the past few years, a consensus has formed in Washington that the answer to that last question is a resounding no. For years, war in Afghanistan has been portrayed as a hopeless failure. The government in Kabul, we have been told, is corrupt and predatory. The Afghan army is a mess. Tribal loyalties trump national loyalties. The Taliban is gaining in strength.
All of this rendered a decision made by President Obama last autumn rather odd-at least on the surface. Obama had long promised that American troops would begin leaving Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. As Vice President Joe Biden had explained: "In July 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it." But then, over the course of a week in November, the White House announced a major reversal of course: A large-scale troop presence would remain in Afghanistan for an additional three years, until 2014.
To read the rest of this article, visit TNR.com, where this was originally published.
Peter Bergen, the editor of the AfPak Channel, is the Director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, a senior fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security, and the author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda. He is a national security analyst for CNN.
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Tune in today: an on-the-record, all-day conference at the New America Foundation on the state of al-Qaeda and its affiliates ten years after September 11, 2001 (NAF).
Change at the top
The Associated Press reported this morning that as part of a reshuffling of President Obama's Afghanistan war team, current CIA chief Leon Panetta will be named secretary of defense to replace outgoing secretary Robert Gates, while current International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) head Gen. David Petraeus will replace Panetta at the CIA (AP). Yesterday the AP reported that that the Obama administration is likely to nominate veteran diplomat Ryan C. Crocker to be the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, replacing current ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who is expected to depart in the next few months (AP, NYT, Reuters, Post). The move would bring Crocker back to South Asia, where he was ambassador to Pakistan from 2004 until 2007 and opened the post-Taliban U.S. embassy in Kabul. Gates said yesterday that no decision has been made about the number of U.S. troops to begin withdrawing in July (Reuters).
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In winter, a noxious fog sometimes descends on Kabul that is so acrid, you can actually taste it. It's a toxic brew of fumes from traffic jams and thousands of charcoal fires, and it's a testament to the fact that in the decade since the fall of the Taliban, Kabul's population has gone up sixfold, from 500,000 to about 3 million.
This gets to the paradox of Afghanistan today: despite the enormous level of government corruption and the Taliban's resurgence in parts of the country, there is another story here - of Afghan recovery and progress. But this story is not well understood by many Americans, 6 out of 10 of whom now oppose the war in Afghanistan.
Consider that under Taliban rule there were only a million children in school. Now there are 6 million, many of them girls. During the Taliban era, the phone system barely existed; now 1 in 3 Afghans owns a cell phone. Basic health care has gone from being a luxury to being available to most of the population, and annual economic growth is over 20%.
These kinds of advances explain why 6 in 10 Afghans in a poll last fall said their country is going in the right direction. The positive feelings Afghans have about the trajectory of their country seem counterintuitive given Afghanistan's deep poverty and feckless government, but they become more explicable when you recall what life under the Taliban was like. The Taliban incarcerated half the population in their homes, massacred thousands of Shi'ites, hosted pretty much every Islamist terrorist and insurgent group in the world and were pariahs on the international stage. Simultaneously, they presided over the collapse of what remained of the economy. And before the Taliban, there was civil war and rule by warlords; before that, a communist dictatorship; and before that, brutal Soviet occupation.
To read the rest of this article, visit TIME.com, where this was originally published.
Peter Bergen, the editor of the AfPak Channel, is the Director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, a senior fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security, and the author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda. He is a national security analyst for CNN.
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Pakistan-watchers tend to focus on political and security issues. But they need to start thinking as well about the economy, the outlook for which is grim over the next several years. Some of Pakistan's problems were spawned by the epic floods of the summer of 2010, but most have resulted from the long-standing failure of the Pakistani government to invest in its people, or from more mundane mismanagement of vital sectors, such as energy. Pakistan's economic problems will weigh especially on the urban population, adding to the country's political woes. It is the impact on the towns and cities - 36 percent of Pakistan's people, but growing at 3.5 percent a year, three times the rate of the rural areas - that presents the most acute political danger.
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Last November, I provided testimony for the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, which along with that of many others helped inform a report the committee issued on March 2, giving its view on policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. It concluded that, "the US should not delay its significant involvement in talks with the Taliban leadership." This report comes at a time when the newspapers are featuring more success stories in Afghanistan than they have for many years. ISAF generals claim with conviction that intensive operations in the country's troubled Kandahar and Helmand provinces have dealt a serious blow to the Taliban. So the American reader might be wondering: why is the British Parliament proposing talks with the Taliban?
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To mark the end of the United States-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue talks last Friday, the Obama administration announced a $2 billion military aid package for Islamabad, the culmination of a negotiation process institutionalized in recent years by the two countries to broaden and strengthen their relationship. Yet skepticism about the viability and effectiveness of the process and the broader relationship continues to dog both sides.
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An incredible flood
The website WikiLeaks.org released roughly 92,000 government documents related to the war in Afghanistan from 2004-2010 yesterday evening, after giving the documents to the New York Times, The Guardian, and Germany's Der Spiegel weeks ago (NYT, Guardian, Guardian, Der Spiegel, NYT). Composed in large measure of "secret" reports and cables from the U.S. military, the initial review of the documents reveals new details about multiple aspects of the war, including civilian casualties caused by international forces, the increased use of sometimes unreliable armed drones, Pakistan's alleged role in supporting various Taliban and militant factions and suspicion of Iranian involvement as well, secret special operations task forces that hunt Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, formerly unrevealed reports that the Taliban may have used heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles against coalition helicopters, and increased evidence that Afghan government corruption is undermining efforts to win over the Afghan population (Wash Post, AJE, CNN, Guardian WSJ, Atlantic, Danger Room, Guardian, Guardian).
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