Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Holbrooke of South Asia

America’s regional envoy says Pakistan’s tribal areas are the problem.
His face tense and unsmiling, a young man from a village in Pakistan’s western tribal areas tells his story, mixing English, Pashto and Urdu. He is the only male in his clan to get an education, but can’t find a job, and blames a corrupt national government. Americans are bombing his neighbors, he says, tempting him to join the Islamist militants in his area. Across the room, another Pakistani turns toward his hosts at the U.S. Embassy and says, “You are hated.”
[The Weekend Interview] Ismael Roldan

The comments are addressed to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the new American special representative for the region, Richard Holbrooke. Seated alongside the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Mr. Holbrooke asks a dozen or so men in the room about the presence of the Taliban in their villages. “We are all Taliban,” comes a response. The others nod in accord. All are or were “religious students,” or Taliban in Pashto. But the expression of solidarity with the various Pakistani and Afghan insurgents who go by the name is lost on no one.

After the meeting, Mr. Holbrooke looks shaken, out of character for a diplomatic operator who picked up the nickname “bulldozer” a decade ago in the Balkans. As he knows, these men who spoke so directly to him are the “friendly” types from the tribal areas — literate, ambitious and willing to risk the ire of the Taliban fighters to meet him and Adm. Mullen at the embassy.

Their home regions of North and South Waziristan and the Khyber agency are familiar place names in this long war: as the world’s sanctuary to al Qaeda’s leadership, as the launching pad for attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan, and as the source of the Islamist challenge to the civilian government atop this rickety nuclear-armed state.

The Obama administration recently unveiled a new strategy to enlarge America’s military footprint in Afghanistan and press Pakistan to act against Taliban safe havens. Mr. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen took the policy on a regional road show this week, and at every stop got a sobering earful. While Afghanistan’s troubles are monumental, the nightmare scenarios start and end with Pakistan.

Mr. Holbrooke, who leads the diplomatic charge, acknowledges the hardest work will be here. His airplane reading is Dennis Kux’s history of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship titled, “The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies.” “Pakistan is at the center of our strategic concerns,” he tells me Tuesday night, flying from Islamabad to India’s capital, Delhi. “If Afghanistan had the best government on earth, a drug-free culture and no corruption it would still be unstable if the situation in Pakistan remained as today. That is an undisputable fact, and that is the core of the dilemma that the Western nations, the NATO alliance, face today.”

Take the dilemma a logical step further, I suggest. The terrorists who threaten America are in Pakistan, but the U.S. fights the Afghan Taliban, who don’t. “That’s a fair point,” says Mr. Holbrooke, “but the reason for fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is clear: The Taliban are the frontrunners for al Qaeda. If they succeed in Afghanistan, without any shadow of a doubt, al Qaeda would move back into Afghanistan, set up a larger presence, recruit more people and pursue its objectives against the United States even more aggressively.” Public support for the expanded U.S. Afghan mission hinges on making this case stick.

In a Hillary Clinton White House, Mr. Holbrooke would almost certainly be in charge at the State Department. In this administration, he serves Secretary Clinton and brings a familiar mix of enthusiasm and bluster, charming and bullying the world’s difficult characters. In the previous decade, Mr. Holbrooke brokered the end of the Bosnian conflict, working then as now closely with the military. He went on to write a memoir titled “To End a War” and become something of a celebrity in the Balkans, even having a bar in Kosovo named after him. The 1995 Dayton peace talks “was 21 days and it was pass or fail,” he says. “This is more complicated even than that.”

The complications in Afghanistan start with an incubator state and mind-boggling corruption, from top to bottom. The past year saw a sharp spike in Afghan civilian as well as American casualties. A rural insurgency is fed by anger at the government and money from the Gulf states, as well as the booming poppy trade. The administration will send 17,000 additional combat troops to confront the Taliban, initially in the south. Mr. Obama also approved 4,000 military trainers, and plans are in the works to double the target size for the army and the police.

Mr. Holbrooke needs to walk a fine diplomatic line. On the one hand, he assures people who know their history that America won’t pull the plug early on this project. At a meeting with Afghan female legislators who have most to fear from a Taliban comeback, he says, “President Obama has made a commitment. We will not abandon you.” On the other hand, the U.S. must counter Taliban propaganda that America replaced Russia as the occupying force. With conservative Afghan religious leaders, Mr. Holbrooke shifts his emphasis: “We are not here as occupiers. We are here to help you. We will leave when you no longer need us.”

Though Adm. Mullen provides the plane on this trip and holds the senior job, Mr. Holbrooke takes the lead in meetings. He moderates discussions like a big-band leader, improvising as necessary. “Good to have a force of nature on the case,” notes a European diplomat watching one performance over dinner in Kabul. “You’re reminded that half of diplomacy is theater.” Holbrooke detractors tend to put the proportion higher.

America sits in the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, but not Pakistan. Here it’s far from clear who does.

Flying into Islamabad, Mr. Holbrooke and Adm. Mullen call on the civilian and military rulers to ask for action against the militants in the tribal areas. The Pakistanis press back. At a joint press conference, the foreign minister is prickly, denouncing strikes by unmanned U.S. Predators on Pakistani territory and noting an absence of “trust.”

In private, American officials report no better progress. The Pakistanis say their terror problems are Afghanistan’s fault. They resent American criticism of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military’s intelligence arm that nurtured Islamist groups for decades, and rule out the deployment of any American troops on their territory.

Talking to the Pakistani press, Mr. Holbrooke says, “We face a common threat, a common challenge.” Pakistani civilians are concerned by the rising number of suicide bombings, now seen in once tranquil Islamabad and Lahore. Whether the army is as well is the question. The military struck a “peace” deal with the local Taliban in the Swat Valley. President Asif Ali Zardari didn’t sign the accord, but the military went ahead to implement it, turning a former tourist destination in the mountains into a Taliban redoubt beyond the reach of the Pakistani state. The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan dates back to the previous regime’s 2006 truce with the militants in Pakistani border areas.

Among Pakistani politicians, Mr. Zardari speaks most clearly about the threat emanating from the country’s west, noting the assassination in late 2007 of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. But he is politically weak, and sounds disinclined to push the military to wage war against the Pashtun tribes in the mountains.

“Holbrooke is a friend,” Mr. Zardari tells me and a couple other journalists along for the ride on this listening tour. “But it’s a long walk. And in that long walk I am losing the people of Pakistan.”

Mr. Holbrooke says the Pakistani president “deserves credit for his personal courage” in holding the job. He welcomes the “statesmanlike” resolution of a recent political feud with rival Nawaz Sharif over the reinstatement of a supreme court judge. The fight could have resulted, he says, in “civil war on the one hand or assassinations on the other.”

With politics a sideshow, many observers, including in American intelligence, think the Pakistani military and the ISI play a double game. They make the necessary pledges to secure billions in American aid while keeping ties to Islamists. The calculation, a Pakistani analyst notes, is America will leave sooner or later and the military needs to hedge its strategic bets.

“We are well aware of these accusations,” says Mr. Holbrooke. “But our experience with [Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani does not support them. We deal with him with respect and with the assumption that he is a serious person doing the best he can under difficult circumstances.”

As part of a “long-term commitment to Pakistan,” the Obama administration wants to lock in billions in aid for the country. Military officials also say the scope of Predator strikes will be broadened, against Pakistani official objections, and efforts to get the adversarial Pakistani and Afghan intelligence services to cooperate will be intensified. Mr. Holbrooke insists the U.S. will respect Pakistan’s “red lines” about American combat troops.

“Some people say to me, particularly after a few drinks, ‘Why don’t we go in there with our troops and just clean it up?'” he says. “First of all we can’t without their permission, and that would not be a good idea. Secondly, cleaning them up in the mountains of Pakistan’s tribal areas, as anyone can see from the search for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, is a daunting mission. It’s the same kind of mountains. A few weeks ago I flew up through the deepest and remotest valleys imaginable. You could see tiny villages in the crevices in the mountains. You don’t want American troops in there. So that option’s gone.”

Though only Pakistan and Afghanistan appear in his job title, Mr. Holbrooke isn’t one to think small. He helped court the Europeans to chip in more troops and aid — with no more success on the former than the Bush administration. He wants to press the Gulf states to cut the illicit flow of funding to the Taliban, involve India and reach out to the Chinese, who are close to the Pakistani military. Last month, at the donor’s conference on Afghanistan at The Hague, he was the first American official to engage an Iranian official since 1979. After Iran downplayed the encounter, so does Mr. Holbrooke. “I’m very much in favor of giving Iran a place at the table if it wants it to discuss the future of Afghanistan,” he says. “But they have not indicated whether they wish to participate or not.”

Mr. Holbrooke’s first posting was in Saigon in the 1960s. As Vietnam analogies for Afghanistan mushroom, particularly from inside his own Democratic Party, he doesn’t dismiss them outright. But he makes a case for continued engagement with a view, perhaps, toward firming up support on the Hill and among the public for a war about to enter its eighth year. “There are a lot of structural similarities” with Vietnam, he says. “The sanctuary [in Pakistan]. They even have a parrot’s peak in both countries, on the Pakistan-Afghan border just as there was in Cambodia. An issue of governance. The fact that the government was supporting a guerilla war. Counterinsurgency.

“But the fundamental difference is 9/11. The Vietcong and the north Vietnamese never posed a threat to the United States homeland. The people of 9/11 who were in that area still do and are still planning. That is why we’re in the region with troops. That’s the only justification for what we’re doing. If the tribal areas of western Pakistan were not a sanctuary, I believe that Afghanistan could take care of itself within a relatively short period of time.”
By MATTHEW KAMINSKI
Islamabad, Pakistan
Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.

Danish PM to head Nato

Nato leaders have agreed that the alliance’s new secretary general will be Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who sent troops to fight alongside the Americans in Iraq.

The 56-year-old takes over from Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is due to leave this summer.

Ahead of the April Nato summit, Mr Rasmussen appeared to have the backing of heavyweight Nato members, notably the US, UK, France and Germany.

But Turkey remained a significant obstacle. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Mr Rasmussen personally about the “serious indignation” in Muslim countries over his stance on the row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.

‘No comment’

Mr Rasmussen, a liberal who has led three consecutive centre-right governments in the last eight years, had repeatedly refused to comment on his candidacy, or even confirm he was in the running.

However, his reticence is believed to have been a tactical move to avoid interfering in any of the diplomatic efforts taking place behind closed doors, rather than signalling a lack of interest in the post.

Mr Rasmussen will face a challenging time at the helm of Nato, with the war in Afghanistan hit by severe setbacks and the alliance debating whether to take in more ex-Soviet countries.

But after more than seven years as prime minister, he is considered a veteran of international politics, whose attention to detail and strong communication skills will stand him in good stead in his new job.

Deal maker

Mr Rasmussen brings considerable experience to the table.

When Denmark held the rotating EU presidency in 2002, it was Mr Rasmussen who led the complex negotiations which resulted in 10 European countries joining the EU in the union’s biggest enlargement to date.

A personal friend of former US President George W Bush, Mr Rasmussen was one of the foreign leaders who most strongly supported the US-led “war on terror”.

Under Mr Rasmussen, Denmark not only supplied troops for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but also sent 700 soldiers to fight under the Nato banner in Afghanistan.

However, his support for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and his uncompromising stand in the row over Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad severely damaged his standing in the Muslim world.

Mr Rasmussen has all along refused to apologise for the controversial cartoons published in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

He has stressed the freedom of the Danish press and said it was not for him to limit or judge what the press published.

Muslims who opposed the cartoons said his tough stance on the matter completely disregarded Islamic sensitivities.

Facebook-friendly

In recent years, Mr Rasmussen has led diplomatic efforts to get major countries such as the US, China, India and Brazil to back a new UN climate agreement.

The agreement is scheduled to be signed in Copenhagen in December 2009, at the so-called COP15 climate summit.

Environmental campaigners fear that the chances of a deal being reached could be diminished if Mr Rasmussen were to leave office before then.

As well as campaigning for an international deal to prevent climate change, Mr Rasmussen was also quick off the mark in embracing social networking sites on the internet.

He was the first top European politician to use Facebook, the popular networking service, to engage with voters. He now boasts 12,000 Facebook friends.

His wife also joined the ranks of celebrity recently when she participated in a television dance show. She has since quit her job in childcare.

NATO Meeting to Highlight Strains on Afghanistan

STRASBOURG, France – NATO leaders gathered here Friday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of an alliance that deterred the Soviet Union, opened the door to emerging democracies, battled ethnic cleansing and now welcomes the return of France as a full member. But they also must face the harsh reality that NATO’s first military mission outside Europe is failing in a way that risks fracturing the alliance.

As President Obama takes ownership of the fight against Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies, aides say he is determined to turn around the war in Afghanistan with a regional approach, recognizing that the stability of neighboring Pakistan, where Al Qaeda hides, is increasingly at risk. Mr. Obama, who left London for Strasbourg Friday after attending the Group of 20 summit meeting, is trying to fashion an efficient counterinsurgency strategy, as in Iraq, with a comprehensive surge of military and civilian reinforcements.

But his increasing American troops in Afghanistan to some 68,000 by the end of the year, from 38,000 today, is also likely to significantly Americanize an operation that in recent years had been divided equally between American troops and allied forces. By year’s end, American troops will outnumber allied forces by at least two to one.

His NATO allies are giving the president considerable vocal support for the newly integrated strategy. But they are giving him very few new troops on the ground, underlining the fundamental strains in the alliance.

The allies will offer more funds but no more than several thousand new personnel members, according to alliance military planners. Many of those will not be soldiers, but police trainers to meet a central pillar of the president’s new Afghan strategy, which focuses on an expansion of Afghan security forces. But even for the small numbers of European combat reinforcements, check the fine print: Nearly all will be sent to provide security for Afghanistan’s elections this summer, and will not be permanently deployed.

The war in Afghanistan has not drawn the enormous public protests in Europe that preceded the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. However, there were clashes in Strasbourg on Thursday between police firing tear gas and nearly 1,000 protesters who tried to enter the city center. The protesters, some of them masked, set garbage cans on fire and smashed a dozen bus stop shelters. On Friday, the French police said that of 300 protesters who had been detained, 107 remained in custody, The Associated Press reported.

The anti-NATO protesters marched from a so-called “peace camp” set up on the outskirts of Strasbourg, where security is already tight. As many as 30,000 police officers are on duty in the city and just over the border in Kehl and Baden-Baden, Germany, where some events will take place.

The war in Afghanistan was the first time that NATO invoked its Article 5, which requires collective defense of a member under attack. It was an important signal of support for the United States after Sept. 11, 2001, and maintaining the alliance was always considered more important than the inefficiencies of the effort, where each national parliament could decide what its troops could do. But Mr. Obama’s approach reflects a decision that to salvage the war now requires a dominant American role.

“As a candidate, Obama had expectations that Europe would make a serious increase in troop levels after he became president,” said Charles A. Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “But there is a realization now that Europe’s main contribution will be police trainers, economic assistance and development assistance.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his British counterpart, John Hutton, have publicly warned that the performance of some European troops demonstrates that NATO risks slipping toward a two-tiered alliance. In that event, it would be divided between those that can and will fight, like Britain, Canada, France and Poland, and those that cannot or will not because of public opinion at home.

In many cases, European capitals have placed severe restrictions on their forces assigned to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or I.S.A.F. That has been such a hindrance to the war effort, in the view of some American commanders, that they ruefully say the alliance mission’s initials now stand for “I Saw America Fight.”

To be sure, a number of NATO and other partner nations have sent troops to Afghanistan who have fought and died in percentages larger than those of the American military. Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch and French conventional forces have shed much blood, and commando units from some of the smaller, newer NATO allies in the Baltics have punched far above their weight, according to American Special Operations commanders.

But even in allied countries whose soldiers have fought so well, public opinion does not support an increase of troops sent to what seems to be an endless war far away in a country that has always ejected foreign occupiers.

Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the United States is scheduled next year to take over from the Europeans the command in southern Afghanistan, which has seen the worst resurgence of violence. The United States will retain the command in fiercely contested eastern Afghanistan, across from Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said that Osama bin Laden and important Qaeda leaders reside.

That means that by next year, the allies will be in charge only in the relatively combat-free northern and western regions.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Holbrooke understood early on that European members of NATO would not provide many troops beyond the approximately 30,000 already there, led by Britain, Germany and France. Instead, the Europeans will focus on the training of the police, of the army and of the civilian administration. The new goal, according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, is to produce an Afghan Army of some 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000.

What Afghanistan needs, a senior German official said, is not more foreign soldiers but more Afghan troops and police officers. Germany is sending in new police mentoring teams, and several hundred more police officers and gendarmes will come from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Spain, according to the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner. France is trying to coordinate a second pillar of the European police force in Afghanistan to do training in the countryside for periods of up to 11 months. That project, which European officials say is more efficient than trying to send local police officers to Kabul, can have a European label.

Europeans will also concentrate on the “civilian surge” to help create functioning Afghan political, judicial and security structures in the countryside.

Daniel P. Fata, the Pentagon’s senior official for European and NATO issues during the Bush administration, said that Mr. Obama must not lower the NATO flag in Afghanistan, as that might provide allies an excuse to go home. “No European country wants to be the first to leave Afghanistan,” said Mr. Fata, a vice president with the Cohen Group, a global business consulting practice. “But many would be happy to be the second, third or fourth.”

Europeans praise the new policy, which “includes for the first time the words ‘exit strategy,’ ” another senior German official said. “But if the real problem is in western Pakistan, for that no one – not Europe and not the U.S. – has any easy answer.”

The New York Times
By THOM SHANKER and STEVEN ERLANGER
Steven Erlanger reported from Strasbourg, France, and Thom Shanker from Washington.