Obama’s AfPak Metrics Miss the Mark On Pakistan

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Obama’s AfPak Metrics Miss the Mark On Pakistan

The draft metrics devised by the Obama administration to evaluate progress in the AfPak theater, while providing a useful list of issues to follow, analyze and gauge the developing situation in Afghanistan, leaves much to be desired in its treatment of the Pakistan side of things. The informed and constructive analysis of said metrics by Steve Coll and Katherine Tiedemann in this forum are must reads to understand the context of this discussion. I almost entirely agree with their assessments but believe that a few additional lacunas in the document must be addressed. Of course, not having access to the ‘classified annex’ (regarding Objective 1: disruption and degradation of terrorist networks and their capability in Afghanistan and Pakistan) limits one’s ability to grade the overall effort (if you may)!

It is quite striking that framers of the metrics have avoided the merest mention of Pakistan-India relations as a factor in understanding which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan’s security environment. While the Obama administration has every right to wish that Pakistan delink its rivalry with India in the Kashmir region from its policy towards Afghanistan (and consequently in Federally Administered Tribal Areas), one cannot ignore the prevailing ground realities. Rather than continuing to evade the relevance of the India factor to AfPak theater, the Obama administration must energetically facilitate and monitor the India-Pakistan peace process (which is lately showing some signs of life courtesy resumption of back channel diplomacy).

The second omission (less glaring than the above) relates to the reform and capacity building of Pakistan’s law enforcement and police. This issue is mentioned in the metrics in general, I must admit, but it is lumped together with the ‘effectiveness’ of intelligence and military counterinsurgency operations, which amounts to minimizing the critical nature of the issue. The Bush-era policy of overwhelming emphasis on ‘military action’ reduced the importance of  devising ‘law enforcement’ strategies. Indeed, for Pakistan, the success of this spring’s military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the FATA and the Swat Valley should not be underestimated, but the country’s investment in police reform and the overhaul of the criminal justice system are more crucial for nabbing and prosecuting extremists in South Punjab, for instance. Whether or not Pakistan moves in this direction by taking significant reform-oriented steps should be followed closely.

While pursuing “an enduring, strategic partnership” with Pakistan is a laudable goal, it can be achieved only when Pakistani public perceptions about the U.S. improve. As recent polls indicate, an increasing number of Pakistanis view the United States as the greatest threat to their country. Hence, gauging American image in Pakistan can be a useful barometer, and effective targeting of the forthcoming U.S. development aid (which is mentioned in the metrics) can potentially start turning the tide in favor of the U.S..

Finally, the list mentions performance and stability of Pakistan’s civilian government and aptly links the stability factor with ‘military involvement’ in governmental affairs. However, this is something that is also dependent on how the Obama administration approaches its relationship with Pakistan. While it is expedient for the U.S. to engage all power centers in Pakistan, it must be recognized that civilian authority in Pakistan will be strengthened when the U.S. government also directs all its communications and links with the country through what in Pakistan is called the ‘proper channel,’ which in this case implies talking to the highest political office first and routing all communication, even about defense issues, through the foreign office and civilian leadership. Moreover, transition from military to civilian rule is a process that takes years and given the influence, resources and past role of the army, it will likely continue to play a crucial role in defining Pakistan’s policy towards regional security issues.

Hassan Abbas is a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). He is also a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior advisor at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School. He is author of Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism.

This article was published in the Foreign Policy journal on September 21, 2009:


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