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U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan

Speakers: James Dobbins, Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, National Security Research Division, Rand Corporation, and Independent Task Force Member, Robert Grenier, Chairman, Erg Partners, and Independent Task Force Member;, and Daniel S. Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, and Independent Task Force Director
Moderator: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
December 16, 2010, New York.
Council on Foreign Relations



DANIEL S. MARKEY: Thank you. Are we ready? Have a seat, please. If I could have your attention, we'd like to get started. Thank you.

My name is Dan Markey. I'm a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations. I just wanted to take a quick opportunity because Anya Schmemann, who is the task force director, was delayed -- yes, that's well deserved -- was delayed in her travel here today so she couldn't do the initial introduction, so I'll try to fill in for her.

I just wanted to very quickly explain what a task force is, first of all, how this process was conducted, and also say a couple of words of thanks to individuals who were involved in it but were unable to join us here on this occasion. This task force took us -- I hate to say it, but roughly 18 months of work by a group of about 25 individuals, whose names you can find on the task force document itself. Over this period of time we conducted numerous meetings in person, as well as a number of conference calls, side interactions by e-mail and so on, to try and arrive at a consensus opinion about the document that you now have.

The process also included two trips to the region that I took, as well -- one of those trips with our two co-chairs, who are both deserving of thanks: Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser in the Clinton administration, and Rich Armitage, the former deputy secretary of State in the Bush administration. So both of them, we traveled together to Afghanistan and Pakistan in February of last year as a part of this process.

You'll see that this is a consensus document, which imposes, obviously, some constraints on the nature of what can be said, but I think also gives the document a weight and a heft to it that it might lack had it been a single author piece. But you'll also see, and I think many readers very quickly flip right to the back, where you find the dissenting views, because members of the task force are always given the opportunity to sign on to the general thrust of the report, but then to provide dissenting opinion on specific issues, and some of those can be, I think, some of the most interesting pieces of the debate and provide you a window into the nature of the conversations that took place throughout this process.

I think we'll be able to get into that unless it gets into our questions, and it will also handle the main introductions. But I do just want to take that opportunity to both thank our co-chairs in particular, and also give you some sense as to how the process works. Thank you.

LESLIE H. GELB: Excuse me. Permit me to stand just for a moment. We lost Dick Holbrooke the other day. Dick was a member of the Council, on the board of the Council two different occasions, very active in this place. Frequent contributor to Foreign Affairs magazine. Dick was a phenomenal public servant of the rarest kind, as you can tell from the public reaction to his death. It's the kind of reaction reserved for a great secretary of State, which those of us who were his close friends and those of us who were his admirers always hoped he would be. And I miss him personally because he was such a dear close friend of mine. So just think about him.

We're going to have a panel discussion on the issue that Dick Holbrooke had been working on so ferociously these last couple of years. Dan Markey has just told you what the task force is, and these people laboring for 18 months shows you what kind of a problem it is. Let me give you a brief introduction of those on the stage who will be talking with you, with me first. All on the record, by the way, and they're hoping you will tell everybody about what they say. No Council ground rules whatsoever. Use their names. Even misstate what they say, as long as you get their names right. (Laughter.)

I'll be very brief in introducing them because you can find their full biographies in the dating section of Facebook. (Laughter.) That's a joke, Jim. (Laughter.)

JAMES F. DOBBINS: Hope springs eternal. (Laughter.)

GELB: On my immediate right is James P. Dobbins, diplomat extraordinaire. Had an incredible career in Foreign Service and now runs the national security program at RAND. On Jim's right is Robert Grenier, and Robert Grenier is a spook extraordinaire, an incredible career of running the counterterrorism operation in our government, being the station -- CIA station chief in Islamabad. Incredible career there. And our own Dan Markey, who Richard Haass, I think, grabbed on the State Department policy planning staff, and then grabbed here, and we're all lucky for it. He is one of the best in this awful business.

We're going to talk, as I said, among ourselves for a half hour at most, then open it up to you and to a few questions from our national members. Jim, why don't you take the lead and give us a two- to three-minute rendition of what you say, how it basically agrees with the administration and where you think it disagrees with the administration.

DOBBINS: Me personally, as opposed to the task force or are you --

GELB: No, no. For the task force. We're not interested in your personal view. (Laughter.)

DOBBINS: I mean, this task force, I think, gave a qualified support for the president's program, but indicated, I'd say, a low level of tolerance for a sustained commitment at current levels. The task force did examine alternatives to the current approach and found that all of the alternatives brought along heightened risks, that moving to lower levels of commitment, counterterrorism rather than counterinsurgency, would increase the risk to the United States, including ultimately the risks of terrorist attacks conducted or guided out of Afghanistan.

On the other hand, it also found that the prospects for the current strategy succeeding rapidly and allowing us to de-escalate our commitment in conditions of success were also distant and not very good.

GELB: Sorry. Does that mean you think they could not be achieved in the more or less four-year time frame that the administration has now established with our NATO partners?

DOBBINS: I don't know that -- I don't think the task force came to a judgment on that, although I think there was some skepticism in that regard. Essentially I think what it set up was a risk-cost calculation, with the bulk of the task force members feeling that the costs involved in the current effort were too high, and that one would probably be better off accepting a somewhat higher degree of risk in order to reduce those costs, $100 billion a year, or 500, 600 American casualties, dead in action every year. I'd say that was the majority view.

There was a minority -- a not insubstantial minority -- who had essentially a different risk-cost calculation. They didn't contest that you could reduce the commitment and accept greater risk, but I think some of us felt that that might not be a good tradeoff. And in particular the report -- and I think this is its most controversial point -- says that if our current strategy is found to be succeeding next summer, we should begin withdrawing our troops. And if the strategy is found not to be succeeding next summer, we should begin withdrawing our troops even more quickly.

And some of us felt that it was premature to make that judgment, and that one would have to examine the strategy rather than simply abandon it next summer if it was found to be inadequate.

GELB: Very good. Thank you, Jim. Bob, anything you would like to add or subtract from that?

ROBERT L. GRENIER: Well, I guess I would say that --

GELB: The opinion of the task force.

GRENIER: Yes. My reading of the report, as Jim said, provided qualified support for the current administration policy. I would say that that's what was highly qualified. And in fact, reading it with as much objectivity as I hope I can manage, it certainly did not make me very hopeful of success.

The alternative that we -- the main alternative for Afghanistan that we posited was what we refer to in the report as a light footprint posture, something along the lines of what I suppose the vice president means when he talks about counterterrorism plus. And there too there's a very heavy emphasis placed on the potential downsides of a light footprint approach, such that on my reading of the report it doesn't make me very hopeful of success there either. So perhaps I should just leave things there.

GELB: Bob, just add a few words to explain what counterterrorism plus means.

GRENIER: As we all know, right now we are engaged in a broad, comprehensive counterinsurgency effort, which is an exercise in effecting nation-building. A light footprint approach would scale back substantially our aspirations in Afghanistan and we'd be focusing on the most clear and proximate threats to the United States. That is, the use of Afghanistan, and by extension the tribal areas in Pakistan as a safe haven by terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and to our allies.

A light footprint approach would be focusing on those -- that set of tasks much more narrowly defined and would at the best take a much slower, smaller and more qualified approach to nation-building and counterinsurgency as more broadly defined.

GELB: Thank you. And Dan, when you go on Chris Matthews tonight, and he lets you say three words about the task force report, maybe two words -- (laughter) -- what are you going to tell people this report adds to the sum total of human knowledge?

MARKEY: Very difficult, would be my two words. And that's it. (Laughter.) If I could get a few more words, I would say only that the exchange that you just heard reflects a fairly wide spectrum of views about the nature both of the objectives, the ambition that we should have in Afghanistan. So on the one hand you have -- and we had in our group those who suggest that a far longer or potentially longer, even more costly effort is worth the United States' time and energy, and those who suggest that what in fact we need to do is scale back, and perhaps even scale back soon rather than waiting to see if this project works.

And the report did come down somewhere in between, reflecting it being a consensus view.

GELB: Yes, I commend this report to you. I think it's among the best the Council has done in the more than 16 years we've been doing these task force reports. It's very thoughtful, very comprehensive. Let me tell you my reaction as I was reading through it, in addition to it's being quite good and informative.

There are three ways of looking at the Afghan-Pakistan situation, to me. One is to look at the situation out there, which is where you concentrate almost all your guns. And that's where the administration seems to be concentrating all its guns. The second is to look at it in the context of the broader terrorist threat and the broader proliferation threat that the United States faces. Is what we're doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan justified, given the broader nature of those threats? Is it much more than Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are they the center of that universe?

And finally, in terms of our own interests writ large. You don't get into that and the administration doesn't get into that. How does this rack up against the need, the real need we have now, given the economic deterioration that we're in? How does this stack up against our need to begin cutting back on commitments like that and focusing on building up the basis of our diplomatic and military power, namely our own economy? Jim, why don't you take the first crack.

DOBBINS: No, I mean, I think those are absolutely legitimate observations. I think that you've seen support for the effort in Afghanistan plummet over the last six or eight months in Washington, at least inside the Beltway, and I think in public opinion more generally. And I think it says a lot more about what's going on here than what's going on there.

I think there is a legitimate risk-benefit tradeoff. The current effort in Afghanistan gives us a near 100 percent certainty that terrorist attacks on New York are not going to be mounted from Afghanistan, but it costs us $100 billion a year. Is that worth it? Do you accept a slightly greater risk and adopt a lower profile, a lower cost profile?

I think no politician, of course, is going to say, I'm cutting our forces and accepting a greater risk. So they'll always argue they're cutting their forces, but that the new posture will be just as successful as the old one, and I think that's disingenuous. But I do think that it's a legitimate tradeoff if you put it in the terms that you've put it in.

I do think that counterterrorism versus counterinsurgency dichotomy is somewhat false. If you're faced with an insurgency, you either counter the insurgency or you accept defeat. If we adopt a posture that focuses purely on counterterrorism, it means that we're just counting on Karzai or his successor to counter the insurgency because we won't have any posture in the country if the insurgency succeeds. So we're taking a gamble that if we get off the front lines, the Afghan army is going to preserve control over enough of the country so that our drones and our intelligence agencies and our Special Forces will still have a place to operate.

GELB: Bob, how do you react to the tripartite analytical framework I suggested? Why didn't you all look at it that way? (Laughter.)

GRENIER: I think to a large extent we did all look at it that way, but largely on our own time. I think that the report, as you say, was very much focused on what's happening there in theater. So let me just kind of start with the part that I'm least qualified to speak on, and that's the domestic political part. It's hard for me to imagine that the American public and Congress are going to be willing to expend $100 billion a year, to say nothing of the loss in deaths and combat-related casualties, that we are going to have to sustain for essentially an open-ended basis. This is hard for me to imagine. Others can speak, I think, with a great deal more authority on that than I can.

With regard to the effort in Afghanistan itself, the issue that I have, I guess, can be summed up in one word, and that's sustainability. I don't think -- at the end of the day -- if it were our intent, if we were like the French in Algeria and it were our intent to stay indefinitely in Afghanistan then I would be more inclined to agree with some of the points that Jim has just made. However, I don't know of anyone who is suggesting that the U.S. should stay there indefinitely.

At the end of the day, if we are to keep Afghanistan from becoming once again a terrorist safe haven, that is a task that is going to have to be taken up by Afghans. And the approach, I believe, that we are taking and the way that we are doing it, trying to build up central institutions of a highly centralized Afghan government, with particular focus on building up a large -- I would say unsustainably large -- Afghan army simply is not going to be sustainable.

And so quite apart from the issue of the expense that we have incurred, the losses that we will continue to suffer, I am very concerned that the strategy that we are pursuing itself is inappropriate and will not succeed. And I hold out a greater hope for long-term success, although it may seem counterintuitive, with a much smaller footprint effort and with commensurately limited objectives.

GELB: Thank you. That's very, very interesting. Dan, you know better than I the split now between the military judgment about the situation in Afghanistan and the agency judgment, CIA judgment. CIA being pretty damn pessimistic, probably much along the lines Bob just expressed, as usual, and the military being, you know, cautiously optimistic at least. Did Bob say as usual? He always says as usual. They're usually more optimistic.

And the president is looking at all this and he knows that's what it's going to be a year from now, going to be the same breakdown. How is he going to disentangle faster, as you guys open the door (to ?), if he has General Petraeus, who is for all intents and purposes president of the United States for Afghanistan, and the judgment that things are deteriorating and aren't worth staying? How do you think your way through that?

MARKEY: I would say that of course, today is a day of the administration unveiling its latest review. And what we're hearing is essentially a confirmation that we will continue along essentially the same trajectory as we've been on and a non-answer to the question you just posed. My expectation is that that non-answer will have to shift in June, July of this coming year or could shift in June, July of this coming year, where there will be, I think, a more significant, even more significant internal debate within the administration based on what they see in the spring fighting season in Afghanistan.

I mean, I think we need to understand that in part, the timing of assessment of military success in Afghanistan is dependent upon the cyclical nature of fighting. Usually Afghans tend to fight more in the spring and summer, less in the winter. Violence goes up and down. And so we will only really be able to judge progress on the military front after about a year of this. And I think that and I've read that individuals within the administration who are opposed to the current approach are biding their time or holding their fire until then to reassess. And then I think we'll get a really full-fledged debate again if, in fact, things don't look good.

Now, of course, if things look better, if things look better, then we'll continue on.

DOBBINS: Let me comment on the dichotomy you set up between the intelligence and military views because I think it's not that. I mean, there probably is a dichotomy, and that's normal between intelligence analysts and policymakers on any issue. But if you read Bob Woodward's excellent book on the Obama administration's last much larger and more hardly fought review, it wasn't a dichotomy between the military and the civilians, because Gates and Clinton ended up on the side of the military in support of the counterinsurgency policy and so did Holbrooke as far as I know.

The division was between those people who had been on the Obama presidential campaign and everyone else. So if you look at everybody who wounded up on the counterterrorism side, the scale-back-now side, it was Vice President Biden, Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, people who came out of the campaign.

Now, it may break down differently next time. But that's how the division largely broke down last time. And it's perfectly legitimate going back to your view, which is if you assemble a bunch of Afghan experts, they're going to focus on Afghanistan. If you assemble a bunch of political experts who are focused on our domestic politics, you're going to have a wider and different view. And it may be a view that's a lot closer to yours as a result.

GELB: Yeah, but it's interesting to me. I went back and looked at the Woodward book after I heard you on NPR yesterday, Jim. And to see what they had said in that second review about U.S. interests worldwide and terrorism and proliferation, large U.S. interests here at home. And in that book, Woodward has them saying nothing about it. And frankly, that's my recollection of it, too. And that's generally my experience with foreign policy discussions in the government. You just discuss the situation rather than putting it into the context you need to make decent foreign policy.

Let me ask you one more question before -- we can pursue any of these later on. One more question before we open it up. Let's talk about the other side of the war. We are fighting, as Bob said, a counterinsurgency war. But the military effort -- and nobody's going to beat our military. Our military sets up in a place, they're more or less going to control that place. They're that good.

But there's the other war, the institution building, the building of security forces. The three of you comment on that war, which involves government and development.

MARKEY: I can start, sure. Let me make two points. First, with respect to the Afghanistan side of the border, and I've written recently, if I were to try and assess the overall progress even over the past several months, on the military side, again, I would say it's too soon to say. It's mixed. On the political front, it's been, and I've written this, a failure. And it will continue to be a failure as long as the United States and others are stuck with the current configuration of institutions and power sharing that is centered on President Karzai in Kabul.

That's not going to work. It's not a sustainable relationship. It's not working well for us now. And it's not likely to shift, I think, in a very constructive way unless we force it to shift in the near term. So my assessment is politically, and that relates to governance, corruption and so on in Afghanistan, failure.

One last point before I go. This report, I think it should be clear, spent a considerable amount of time on the Pakistan side of the border and not just in relationship to the Afghanistan problem, but as a challenge in and of itself. And I think that one of the contributions that sometimes gets lost because so much of the American debate really is consumed by the war that we are fighting in Afghanistan. But the scale, the complexity of the challenge that we face in Pakistan was not neglected by this report.

And I think on that front, including the challenge of Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is only partially related to the war in Afghanistan, this report also makes a useful contribution.

GELB: Bob or Jim to follow?

GRENIER: Yeah, we have huge problems in governance and security in Afghanistan. And one of the things that attracts a disproportionate amounts of attention is corruption. And people wring their hands and they say, oh my god, there's such a high level of corruption that it has been ever thus in Afghanistan. Well, in fact, current levels of corruption in Afghanistan are much greater than traditional levels of corruption in that country.

And, in fact, what we have done, what we are doing is making it far worse and making governance, good governance that much more difficult to achieve. By having centralized power in Kabul, we have set up a situation where you essentially have a government which is a criminal enterprise. It is officials in Kabul, primarily President Hamid Karzai, who are able to make appointments at the provincial and all the way down to the district level.

Those appointments are essentially licenses to steal, whether it's local tax collectors, whether it's local police chiefs. They abuse their power in order to get money at the local level and then they pass it up to their patrons up the line back in Kabul. So essentially, you have a very complex, vertically integrated system of corruption.

And that would be bad enough, but it's actually worse than that because by allowing the government in Kabul to appoint these officials at the local level, what they have done, in effect, has been to set up a system where they support their friends and they harm their enemies. And we don't have enough influence with them at the local level that we are able to counteract their more malign tendencies. And as a result, the people who are disadvantaged at the local level are driven into the arms of the Taliban.

So if we're to turn a corner on this, I think we have to have a radical decentralization of power and a great deal more local engagement with officials to make sure that the warlords that we're supporting -- I think we ought to be supporting warlords, but that we make them the best warlords that they can be.

DOBBINS: I wouldn't go quite that far, but I agree that there ought to be a greater bottom-up grassroots effort at building capacity as well as top-down. I do think, however, that we sometimes lose perspective on what, in fact, has been achieved in Afghanistan since 2001. Since 2001, Afghanistan's GDP has tripled. It's grown at the same rate as China over the last nine years. Its illicit exports have gone up 600 percent. Half of the population have telephones. Eighty percent of the population have at least some limited access to health-care facilities.

Most Afghan children are in school and nearly half of the girls in the country are in school. Afghanistan's literacy rate will triple over the next 10 years as a result of that. Access to electricity, to water, to sanitation, to schooling and education are all up. Infant mortality is down. Longevity is going up.

Afghan people are very concerned that their government is corrupt and incompetent and yet, A, a majority of them believe the country's going in the right direction. B, they support Karzai. He has much higher popularity ratings than President Obama at the moment. And they support their government.

Now, how can that be? And the answer is they're not comparing Afghanistan to Switzerland. They're comparing Afghanistan to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and Iran. And they're comparing Afghanistan today to Afghanistan in the '80s or Afghanistan in the '90s. And by all of those comparisons, it doesn't look so bad.

Yes, security situation has deteriorated. But for the average Afghan, that country is much safer than Mexico is for the average Mexican or Colombia for the average Colombian or South Africa for the average South African, where the rate of death, violent deaths are all much, much higher. So, you know, I think we -- we think we're in the ninth year of a war. The insurgency didn't start until 2006 and the counterinsurgency didn't start until 2008. And we've just, I think, largely lost perspective because we're focused, naturally enough, on our own problems and they're getting worse here at home.

GELB: Well, even with all the caveats you made, Jim, the conclusion I draw from what you say is that we ought to ask the Afghans over to the United States to help us with our economic development. (Laughter.) Is it that good?

DOBBINS: They started with a low base. (Laughter.)

GELB: Okay. It's your turn now. And if we could pick up with this economic development theme in point. We're lucky to have George Rupp with us who knows a lot about this business. Could I impose on you, George -- he's right over here to make a comment or ask a question? And please, the usual drill. Stand, identify yourself, which means name, rank, serial number, et cetera.

QUESTIONER: George Rupp from the International Rescue Committee. Maybe I can make a comment that picks up on the heavy footprint versus the light footprint issue, which I think has come into focus here. I can report we have 400 people on the ground in Afghanistan. Ninety-eight percent of them are Afghan. And we monitor very closely what's happening over time.

And I think it's accurate to say the consensus among our people on the ground -- and we're in areas that have been unstable, inaccessible to Americans for a long time, in the quadrant southeast of Kabul down to the border -- the consensus is although there is marginally better security in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, in focused places where the U.S. has invested troops -- and so that's a plus for the surge -- there is hugely increased instability in the rest of the country, including lots of other places where we're involved.

And while we have made progress -- we, the U.S. ISAF, the NATO coalition has made progress in killing senior and mid-level Taliban leaders, they are regrettably being replaced by much more radical Taliban or insurgency leaders on the ground who, in fact, don't have the level of constraint and willingness to negotiate and make arrangements that was the case with the people who were assassinated, some of whom, of course, were the fathers and uncles of the new leaders.

So I think my own judgment is the heavy footprint that the surge represents is creating at least as many problems as it's solving. And they will be very long-term problems because of the radical disenchantment of the new insurgents who are being generated. I mentioned one -- this is will -- I will only make a few more comments. Then I'll stop.

But one factoid that's of interest. When the Germans first agreed to be part of ISAF, they wanted to --

GELB: Tell people what ISAF is.

QUESTIONER: ISAF is the International Security Assistance Force, the NATO force that now is providing security in Afghanistan. They wanted to go to Kunduz because they didn't want to go anywhere where there's any chance there would be any fighting. It was a very secure area and so they were happily ensconced there for a while. Now Kunduz is completely insecure. I mean, you have to be very careful about getting from Kabul up to Kunduz.

So let me -- that's comment about the heavy footprint. Light footprint, it does seem to me really important that we work in the direction of what Rory Stewart initially, but now lots of others including you have talked about as a light footprint, which would be a longer-term investment over a long period of time in which development assistance is not provided through the military and I think a fundamental mistake.

And as an example of that, I will briefly refer to the National Solidarity Program, which our collective good friend, Richard Holbrooke, always cited as one development program that works. The International Rescue Committee is now in 1,400 villages, almost all in so-called insecure parts of Afghanistan. And we have worked there over seven years. And the way we work is to go into a village with Pashtun -- with Afghan staff who know the village elders, work out arrangements so there's a village-based development or community council.

They decide what their priorities are for development. They monitor the expense of the funds, so there's accountability in all directions here. And they then provide the sweat equity to make those projects work. They're usually infrastructure projects, water and sanitation projects, schools. I understand, Les, I'll --

GELB: George, I'm going to hold you here, if I may, because I think this would be really good for a particular follow-on on this subject. But I think we do have to move on. That was tremendously helpful.

QUESTIONER: Okay. So the light footprint as the prospect of long-term impact in Afghanistan in a way that the heavy footprint doesn't. Thank you.

GELB: Thank you so much. Dan, will you want to comment for the group on that because I know you guys talked about that?

MARKEY: Yeah, I can briefly. The report recognizes a lot of the negative security trends that we've seen in recent past. It does not pronounce on whether the negative security trends are a result of a change in U.S. strategy. And here I think we would see a considerable difference of views over whether it was because the United States introduced more forces or because it failed to do so sooner that we've seen this uptick in the kind of violence that you've described. But it certainly recognizes that violence.

With respect to its assessment of a potential light footprint, it identifies a variety of areas which would be more difficult to operate for U.S. forces had they far fewer in country. And so with respect to hunting down terrorists and so on, the report makes the observation that it'll be far more difficult for, say, 10 (thousand) to 20,000 U.S. forces to gain intelligence, to move around the country, to operate effectively than a far larger contingent of what we see right now.

So the report doesn't accept that, but recognizes that those may be risks we'd have to run, as was said earlier, if the current approach doesn't work.

GELB: Dan, while we're with you, why don't you read one of the national --

MARKEY: Yeah, absolutely. And if I could first just make one very other short comment. Your observation about the changing nature of the Taliban or of the insurgency, the report also puts its finger on the challenge that that represents because I think what we're seeing both in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a changing insurgency. In many ways, it's becoming more global in its outlook, more violent, more ruthless, younger in age and potentially even more dangerous. And what implications you draw from that will vary.

So we have a question here from Thomas D. McNeice, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. This is from the national member. And he writes the taskforce report quotes that quote, "Left unchecked, Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates could eventually rival al Qaeda as the world's most sophisticated, dangerous terrorist organization," end quote. Given LET, Lashkar-e-Taiba links to the Pakistani intelligence community and their popular support in Pakistan, what can the United States do to isolate this threat?

GELB: Bob, why don't you --

QUESTIONER: Yeah, Bob is the natural on --

GELB: Why don't you take this one?

GRENIER: Well, I think that efforts to isolate LET so that it can be found, fixed and eliminated are going to be difficult at best. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

If you look at this from the Pakistani perspective, the Pakistanis have many enemies, they have many threats. Lashkar-e-Taiba was originally supported by the Pakistan army and the Pakistan intelligence service as an insurgency weapon -- a terrorist weapon, if you will -- against the Indians in Kashmir. And they retain a great deal of ambivalence, at best in terms of their attitude toward that organization and others like it, given the fact that they don't want to throw away a potential tool in this continuing struggle with India.

But it goes beyond that. The LET is often described as the Hezbollah of Pakistan in that Hezbollah has a great deal of grassroots political support in Lebanon because of the humanitarian work that they do and the political support therefore that they have engendered.

An analogous situation is true of Lashkar-e-Taiba and its political umbrella organization in Pakistan, and therefore makes the Pakistanis -- to the extent that they would be otherwise inclined to take action against LET, makes it much more difficult for them to do so.

What should we do in order to further isolate them? I think that that is largely an intelligence issue. To the extent that we find -- as we are finding -- links of Lashkar-e-Taiba outside of Pakistan, which posed a clear and present danger to ourselves and to our allies, we need to draw those links back into Pakistan and hold the Pakistanis to account in taking action against those individuals who are affiliated with clear, bone fide terrorists.

It makes it very, very difficult for the Pakistanis to say no under those circumstances, whereas, conversely, if we're simply saying Lashkar-e-Taiba, very bad organization, you must do something about it, they're going to find reasons on any given day why they should not, or at least why they should put off such --

GELB: Very good answer; thank you. All the way in the back.

QUESTIONER: I'm Ishaq Nadiri. I'm a professor of economics at NYU and am an Afghan-American. And I've spent quite a bit of time in Afghanistan so I just wanted to reflect some of the issues from an Afghan point of view so people could understand.

GELB: But please let me beg you to do it very briefly.

QUESTIONER: Very brief. Very brief.

First of all, the issue of all these expenses that you are talking about, this is military expenses. And the issue of efficacy of the military's important plans -- we have 150,000 well educated, well equipped soldiers of the world in Afghanistan, and they are chasing about 10,000 to 20,000 Taliban, and they have difficulty. The question that most Afghans ask -- why?

Second, there is a parallel development in Afghanistan that the international community has a different government there. They spend most of their money; they do all these things. Their corruption is there as well as here, both sides.

The third thing is that this is a -- the Afghan Project is a project between the two societies, like the U.S. population as well as the Afghan population. One wants to be helped and not attacked from all those other things, and the other one wants to have -- to recoup by millions and millions and millions of the Afghans that all got killed in the process of the American and Russian situation. So, it is just sort of simply outlining this thing, you know, as another foreign policy problem, and it's not.

And, finally, the things that Les was talking about; we need to know what are the plan B and plan C. It is not something to just get out and then that will terminate there. What will happen next? And that consequences has to be considered and then we can talk about whether the Afghans can help the development of the United States or not.

So, one of the things which I've noticed, that all these discussions that goes on from all the European countries as well as Americans, they don't talk to the Afghans. For example, seven years or eight years that we have been talking about that Pakistan is the place to concentrate. Up to now, the United States is bribing Pakistan.

GELB: Professor, let me hold you there because I think we've got -- very helpful. Jim, why don't you respond?

DOBBINS: I think those are good comments. I don't have any -- I don't have any --

GELB: Anyone else? You've overwhelmed the panel. (Laughter.)

Winston Lord?

QUESTIONER: Winston Lord, International Rescue Committee. I've only read a brief summary of the report so I don't know the detailed recommendations -- and this has to do with Pakistan.

I'll betray my bias -- and I'll be extremely brief here -- namely that all that we've talked about is irrelevant if we don't solve the sanctuary problem in Pakistan. At least four or five administrations have been totally hoodwinked by Pakistan, and it's an obscenity that American young people are getting killed with Pakistan's help.

So I'd like to know what specifically are you saying in your report to turn them around, which five administrations, including this one, have failed to do. The summary suggests that you're impatient and we can't let this go on, but we've heard that for 25 years.

GELB: Winston used to be much more restrained when he was president of the council. (Laughter.) Why don't I give you each a quick whack at that? It's a very important question.

DOBBINS: I can begin. I mean, the report does say that the fundamental of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership is in jeopardy because of precisely the problem that you've put your finger on. And of course communicating that and communicating that privately and publicly is a first step, but it's not enough.

Bob has put his finger on the challenge of going after some of these groups in a very direct way, that some of them enjoy sanctuary because they are, to some degree, popular inside of Pakistan. And that's the balancing act that we're confronted with because the Pakistani state continues to provide refuge to them, both in part because of their popularity and also because it continues to see a strategic utility in maintaining its links to these groups, playing this double game.

And it's only -- and now this is me speaking, not so much the report, but it's only if we are able to convince the Pakistanis that that game will not pay dividends. That is, they cannot use these groups effectively to project their influence in Afghanistan or India that will begin to see a change. They don't see that. They don't see that their strategic calculation has to shift.

They're unlikely, I think, to see that unless they see things in Afghanistan fundamentally changing, I think for the better, and they see a potential for their relationship with India changing too. That may lead them to change. But the report suggests that we can take somewhat more harsh intelligence efforts, military efforts, against these groups, including the targeted use of drones along the border, but it doesn't suggest that these things, in themselves, will necessarily ultimately be effective.

QUESTIONER: In other words, no pressure on Afghanistan, just -- (audio break) -- analysis --

DOBBINS: You mean Pakistan. No. I think no; quite the opposite. Centrality of this issue in the relationship is what the report clearly states, that this -- this is the central question that keeps us from being able to have a better relationship with Pakistan over the long term. And then the chickens will come home to roost.

GELB: Yeah, the report really does say that, Win.

QUESTIONER: No, it doesn't say how to do it.

GELB: No, it doesn't say how to do it, but Bob and Jim are going to tell you how to do it. (Laughter.)

GRENIER: Good. I really like that lead-in. (Laughter.)

No, I think you're absolutely right that the exhortation is not going to do it. Simply beating up on the Pakistanis continually and saying, you must do this differently -- at the end of the day, the Pakistanis will do what they perceive to be in their interest, and it's only until we get to place where their interests and their view align with ours that we're really going to make progress on this. And, mind you, there's a context, and that is that the destabilization of Pakistan would be a very, very bad thing for us, given the fact that it's a nuclear weapons state, et cetera, et cetera.

So, how do we bring that about? Well, let me just mention two broad factors. One really has to do with the Pakistani calculus of its interests in Afghanistan. One thing that we can do is to demonstrate to the Pakistanis, not just by our words but by our actions, by putting our posture there on a fundamentally and transparently sustainable basis -- which I would argue is not now.

They will then realize that, oh, they're going to have to deal with us over the longer term, and in fact you are not going to have an Afghanistan in which there is no substantial U.S. or Western presence, where they will see an interest, a compelling national interest, in maintaining influence with those Pashtun groups -- currently insurgents -- who are their sole hope of affecting the future of Afghanistan, which is of extreme national importance to them.

So, A, we need to demonstrate to them that we are there for the long term. Secondly, we need to demonstrate to them -- and this is the government of Afghanistan needs to demonstrate to them that their country will not be used by India as a means of gaining strategic advantage over Pakistan. Not nearly enough has been done along those lines, and we could spend a lot of time talking about that.

The third thing that's extremely important to understand is that from a Pakistani perspective -- again, Pakistanis have many enemies. We talk about the Taliban in very broad terms. Well, there are at least two Talibans. There are three elements of an Afghan insurgency. There are also elements of the so-called Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban -- Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan -- which is aiming at the Pakistanis.

The Pakistanis, on any given day, are much more concerned with the people who pose a direct threat to them rather than the groups that pose a threat to the Americans and the Afghans and the international forces in Afghanistan.

One of the things that they are deathly afraid of is that by taking action against the people who are of primary concern to us, they will drive their domestic militants and these Afghan militants together and induce them to cooperate against the Pakistani government. They don't want to do that and I think it's entirely understandable that they would try to avoid that.

DOBBINS: Well, the report does, after noting all the problems in Pakistan, it does somewhat anonymously -- anomalously -- (laughter) -- you know, recommend that we embrace them even more closely, give them some additional trade preferences, increase our assistance, et cetera

What I don't think it does quite adequately -- although it does make reference to it -- is indicate that we're only one successful car bomb away from a breach in our relations with Pakistan, an erratically different approach.

You know, if we have an attack in the United States that can be traced to Pakistan and to groups that have traditionally enjoyed ISI support, you know, the kinds of policies that we've been following for the last eight or nine years are not going to be sustainable, and it doesn't really -- and nobody has really explored what the alternatives are. Everybody knows the alternatives could be more dangerous and more difficult and so -- but they've never really explored them.

I do think, however, that there is one slight glimmer of hope. Obama's promise to begin drawing down American troops next summer, while it may have been unhelpful in a number of respects, has had one beneficial effect: Everybody -- Pakistan, the Afghans and everyone else -- have begun thinking about something beyond the current conflict, of an endgame, and positioning themselves for an endgame and talking about negotiations because most people believe that this conflict isn't going to end with a clear-cut victory by one side or the other.

Karzai has embraced the concept. Karzai has built a national constituency for the concept. Eighty percent of the Afghan people support a negotiated settlement, and most of them believe the Taliban should be brought into the government, although not in a dominant position. And Pakistan has begun to try to maneuver itself into a mediating position.

They have come to the United States and they said, we're prepared to help you with the Taliban. We're prepared to broker a settlement. We don't want the Taliban -- the Afghan Taliban to stay in Pakistan where they are now. We'd like to get them out. We would like to get them back into Afghanistan but we don't want them running the government in Kabul. We want them to have enough influence that they'll get out of our hair but we don't want them running the government. We've had that. We don't like it. We won't want it again. And so that's one glimmer of hope.

GELB: Critical question -- very, very good answers on this, whether they'll work or not.

Our brilliant vice president for national affairs will harass me if we don't get another question in from one of our national members. Dan?

MARKEY: Okay. We have Gustav Ranis of Yale University, who writes, "Since, as the report concludes, 'time and patience are understandably short,' how can you assume that militants in both countries won't simply wait us out while we continue to commit billions of dollars and hundreds of casualties en route to 2014?

GELB: Dan, why don't you take a crack at that yourself?

MARKEY: Well, I would simply observe that, as Secretary Gates has, that if the Taliban are willing to wait us out, so to speak, then we're willing to accept it, meaning if they are going to sit off to the side and allow us to try to create more enduring structures of security and stability in Afghanistan, then that's okay; we'll let them sit it out, build those things, and when they try to come back, it will be that much harder for them.

So far, though, we don't see that. So far we see the opposite. They're not sitting out. They're actually raising the ante in terms of violence. So, I would dispute the assumptions that are built into the question.

GELB: I see one hand out there somewhere on this side for our last question, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Dana Freyer from the Global Partnership for Afghanistan, working in Afghanistan with farmers, helping them restore their livelihoods. A question for the panel: Ambassador Holbrooke and many in the administration and elsewhere have acknowledged that agriculture development is the most important non-military strategy in Afghanistan for stabilizing the country.

Those of us working on the ground through and with Afghans know that as much as we hear that billions of dollars of aid is going to Afghanistan, we know that the reality is a mere pittance of it is actually getting on the ground. And that's in part -- it's an issue of Afghan capacity but it's also an issue of the U.S.'s ability, and other countries, to deliver that aid and to have their staff and their people reach local communities.

So I question the panel: Why wasn't that addressed? I mean, that's such a -- well, not easily fixable problem but we see the result in communities where there is economic development, rural development in Afghanistan, how they have bee stabilized, they have resisted the Taliban and insurgents. Why wasn't that an issue that was addressed in the report?

GELB: Thank you very much.

GRENIER: If I could just make a quick stab at it. The report does speak to the question of assistance programming in Afghanistan, and I think what we found was there was a spectrum of views within the group on the efficacy, so far, of those efforts, ranging from what you've described to some who are more optimistic about it.

Where the report chooses to then focus its attention because of that is on using U.S. assistance funding to promote private-sector engagement in Afghanistan; that is, using U.S. assistance money rather than directly helping Afghans, trying to create the environment that will encourage outside foreign investors to come in.

It identifies a couple of areas. Now, agriculture is one, but we've heard about the opportunities for mineral wealth and so on. These are others that it, I think, places a greater emphasis on than strictly the agriculture problem.

GELB: I addition to reading this useful and learned report, I would remind you that the council has a bevy of military fellows, State Department fellow, intelligence fellow, press fellow, almost all of whom have had considerable direct experience in this area and I would urge you to seek them out. We're lucky to have had these gentlemen prepare this kind of quality report. Join me in thanking them. (Applause.)












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