Friday President Obama set out his policy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and combating terrorism in that region. He explained, “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future.”
During the President’s EOB remarks he set out the nature of the threat, saying, “The situation is increasingly perilous… Al Qaeda and its allies — the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks — are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the United States homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows al Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”
The President continued, “The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. This almost certainly includes al Qaeda’s leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe haven to hide, to train terrorists, to communicate with followers, to plot attacks, and to send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world.”
(A full transcript of the President’s remarks is available from the White House website.)
To deal with this most dangerous place in the world the President’s policy does not offer much that is new, but it does promise greater priority, resources, and energy being applied to Afghanistan. Many will quibble with the simplification, but the policy shifts our gun scope from the Euphrates to the Hindu Kush.
Reaction to Friday’s policy roll-out was mostly positive. Both Pakistani and Afghan leadership promised support. President Kharzai of Afghanistan said, “It is exactly what the Afghan people were hoping for, and we’re seeking… This is better than we were expecting, as a matter of fact.”
Some others, of course, were not as positive. In a Reuters interview Noor Muhammed, a prominent cleric in Quetta, Pakistan, said, “”America is foolish because it will only force more people here to stand up against it… If infidels occupy a Muslim land then it’s obligatory for all Muslims to do jihad.”
By coincidence or in response, on Sunday the Taliban kidnapped eleven Pakistani policemen in the Northwest and are suspected in a Monday morning attack on a police academy in the East.
Complicating the President’s policy is support for the Afghan Taliban by elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Responding to questions about Pakistani support for the Taliban insurgency, General David Petraeus said, ““There are some cases that are indisputable in which that appears to have taken place…” Links between the Taliban and ISI “are very strong and some unquestionably remain to this day.” There is also evidence that these ties – and sympathies – will resist quick dilution.
Tomorrow the President leaves for Europe. In addition to seeking international cooperation to manage the financial crisis, he will push for increased NATO support on the Afghan-Pakistan border and in the Taliban-dominated areas of Southern Afghanistan. Several argue that the President’s Af-Pak policy depends largely on his ability to enlist more robust NATO involvement.
So… we will renew and strengthen our fight in the Hindu Kush, where we began our fight in the weeks after September 11. How this fight ends will, I think, influence how soundly we sleep for many years to come.
One hundred-twenty years ago, Rudyard Kipling in A Man Who Would be King, wrote of the Hindu Kush, “That was a most mountainous country… They were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild goats… And these mountains, they never keep still, no more than goats. Always fighting they are, and don’t let you sleep at night.”
(The policy White Paper and a press briefing on the new policy is available from the White House website.)
UPDATE: “The chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, has told the BBC his group was behind Monday’s deadly attack on a police academy in Lahore.” (Read BBC report.)
SECOND UPDATE: On April 1 the Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan held a summit meeting in Turkey.