The panel discussion "Afghanistan and Pakistan: What is Victory and Where is Victory?" was one of four which took place at the Middle East Institute’s 62nd Annual Conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2008.
Steve Coll, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, Shuja Nawaz., and Ambassador Wegger Christian Strommen (Moderator).
In a panel discussion held at the Middle East Institute’s 62nd Annual Conference, author and journalist Steve Coll, former US Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, and author and Pakistan analyst Shuja Nawaz discussed the present role of the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as approaches to potential future difficulties for America in both countries.
Steve Coll described the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the most pressing foreign crisis for the United States. According to Coll, the US government is currently conducting three broad policy reviews in order to develop a formal plan regarding the position of the United States in Afghanistan. These include an interagency review, taking place within the Bush Administration; a second in the military command for the Middle East, Central Command or CENTCOM; and a third review under the supervision of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Coll suggested that, in part, these efforts form an effort to construct a broad US strategy in Afghanistan, such as the one that exists for US forces in Iraq.
Coll presented three primary issues that the next American administration must address with regard to Afghanistan. First is the question of whether or not the US should make the scheduled 2009 elections in Afghanistan a strategic priority. Coll contended that US policymakers will probably view elections as a priority, because they represent a key component in the effort to reinforce the Afghan government against the threat of the Taliban. According to Coll, these elections constitute a solution preferable to the alternative of jurga rule, although they will require huge security preparations. Second, the next US strategy must develop an effective Afghan police force as quickly as possible. Coll explained the current Afghan army as too small and without sufficient resources due to the focus of the Bush Administration on Iraq and to an inefficient aid system. Finally, the US must work towards regional diplomacy through a regional contact group involving neighboring states.
In her remarks, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi emphasized the need to repair the “trust deficit” that exists between the US and Pakistan, and she suggested that President-elect Barack Obama has the opportunity to do so, if he taps the goodwill that his election has inspired throughout the Middle East. Lodhi stressed the significance of the tone in language of the new administration with regard to foreign diplomacy. She advocated the abandonment of the phrase “War on Terror,” which she believes has merged different risks to the US into “one epic threat.”
Lodhi also underlined the dangers of war in Afghanistan without strategic goals. She warned that the recent troop increase “ignores the lesson of history” and exported the insurgency into Pakistan. As stated by Lodhi, US policymakers must come up with a new, more realistic approach to the situation in Afghanistan that should entail bottom-up development and regional diplomacy. Furthermore, she emphasized the need for the US to break away from the Bush legacy and to consider Pakistan as a “valued ally.” This evolved policy would require the cessation of US strikes into Pakistan, which have undermined the latter’s ability to address security, economic, and governance issues. In closing, Lodhi stated that core interest of the United States lies in a strategy aimed at supporting, rather than destabilizing Pakistan.
The final speaker, Shuja Nawaz, described Pakistan as facing a continuous battle between what the government wants and what the people want, and he asserted that autocratic military rule prevents normal political development in the country. According to Nawaz, the US cannot win the war in Afghanistan without the support of the Pakistani army and population. Additionally, Nawaz expressed the need to move from a purely military solution in Pakistan towards a solution that will engage the US government with both the Pakistani government and people.
About this Event
This panel discussion was one of four which took place at the Middle East Institute’s 62nd Annual Conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2008.
This Event Summary was written by Katherine White, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a major in Political Science and International Studies and a current research assistant at the Middle East Institute. The summary was edited by Allison Hutchings, a rising senior at the College of William and Mary where she is majoring in International Relations and a current intern at the George Camp Kaiser Library.
Disclaimer: Assertions and opinions in this Summary are solely those of the above-mentioned author(s) and do not reflect necessarily the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.