The Mire In Af-Pak
Last week Richard Holbrooke visited the Af-Pak region for talks, and while his trip to India actually showed me some promise that the strategy would be regionalized, with an India-Pakistan accommodation at the heart of it, the Pakistan leg of the trip was somewhat less auspicious.
The normally urbane and mild-mannered Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, was firm and spoke in categorical terms.
Meanwhile, Richard Holbrooke chatted quietly with Admiral Mike Mullen - an act that, whatever the intention, was perceived as rude and contemptuous by those present.
I’m told that this looked really bad in the footage shown on Pakistani television.
Whoops. It's not like the Pakistani people harbor a general antipathy toward America, and consider our actions in the region harmful, or anything. In particular, the new head of the ISI, the Pakistani security forces, really doesn't seem to like us:
In another sign of new strains in the relationship, the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, refused to meet separately with Mr. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen, who had requested a meeting, according to Pakistani officials and an American official, who sought anonymity because he did not want to further damage relations.
General Pasha did attend a meeting with the two Americans and Pakistani military’s chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, according to a statement issued by the press arm of the Pakistani Army after Mr. Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen left Islamabad for India on Tuesday night.
The more I read about this, the more the word "nightmare" comes to mind. It's not that the overall strategy is worse than George Bush's; in some respects, like engaging in direct talks with insurgent groups, and increasing economic aid to the region, it's quite a bit better. But we are stumbling into a long-term commitment in South Asia, with a costly and precarious counter-insurgency strategy supposedly tied to a clear counter-terrorism goal. The Administration claims their aims are far lower than previous iterations, and yet they are trying to build a security force that could never be supported by Afghanistan itself, and preparing to spend a decade or more to build it up, make inroads with the local communities, etc., etc. And in the meantime, insurgents are growing stronger in Pakistan, growing stronger in Afghanistan, with seemingly little end in sight. It makes me queasy.