Tuesday 12 October 2010

White House thoughts on AfPak

The highly critical White House report to Congress on Afghanistan and Pakistan reported in the Wall Street Journal last week is now available to read in its entirety on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.
Dated 30 September, it is the second such report, as specified under s1117 of the Supplemental Appropriations Act 2009 which requires an updated report from the President to Congress every 180 days.
It reports on eight objectives that the White House has established in order to judge its campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan and is probably the best guide to US thinking and policy achievement in the region.
While much of the report remains secret - for example, Objective 2 is actually classified and confined to a classified annex - the harsh language and criticism levelled against Pakistan is unusual and indicates a substantial degree of frustration and blatant anger in the White House.
The recent spat over border incursions that led to Pakistan blocking supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan is undoubtedly connected to this report. In the past the USA has tried to tone down its criticism of both the Zardari government and the Army high command, but not on this occasion.
The report notes increasing support in Pakistan for the Army in inverse proportion to support for President Zardari's government. It says his decision to travel to Europe during the flooding crisis "exacerbated inter-party tensions, civil-military relations and damaged his image in the domestic and international media."
The report is highly critical of Pakistan's military efforts against insurgents, noting that "The military, augmented by the paramilitary Frontier Scouts, engaged in operations that were designed to retain cleared areas and stop militants from conducting offensive operations in settled areas, but the Army stopped short of the kind of large-scale operations that would permanently eject extremist groups - including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda."
It says that the failure to 'hold and build' in cleared areas "could eventually turn last year's operational successes into stalled strategic efforts". The Pakistan Army conspicuously avoided military engagements that would put it into direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan. "This is as much a political choice as it is a reflection of an under-resourced military prioritising its targets", says the report.
On the White House's Objective VI, namely reversing the Taliban's momentum so that the US can transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government on a timeline that will permit the US to begin to decrease its troop presence by July 2011, the report notes positive developments in some areas, but concludes: "Long-term prospects for sustainability, however, are viewed with guarded optimism and rated as temporary. Current trends remain tenuous until more permanent and effective governance is established in areas being secured." It notes that the campaign faces "a resilient enemy that continued to exploit governance and security gaps in a number of areas."Polling indicates that there has been no statistically significant change in the perception of security by Afghans since September 2008.
Reporting on the impact of the surge in US troops, the report notes: "ISAF has reduced coalition-attributed casualties despite the increase in kinetic activity. "
On governance in Afghanistan, the report produces many figures, but one stands out: Afghans' confidence in the government's actions to reduce corruption is low and has decreased from 21.5 per cent to 16.5 per cent. It says: "Afghan anti-corruption efforts continue to be weak."
If you want to know about what the White House thinks about Afghanistan and Pakistan, you could do a lot worse than start with this report.

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