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Pakistan, Afghanistan, and US Foreign Policy

Pakistan reportedly building a foothold in Afghanistan. We’ll look at its growing influence and what it means for American influence in the region.

Pakistan police and army soldiers at the site of a bomb blast in Quetta, Pakistan, June 20, 2010. (AP)

Pakistan police and soldiers at the site of a bomb blast in Quetta, Pakistan, June 20, 2010. (AP)

Confirmation hearings today for General David Petraeus as he readies to take over in Afghanistan. He faces huge challenges.

Pakistan has stepped in to fill what it sees as a security vacuum. Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai has soured on the Americans. There’s talk of talking to the Taliban. Power-sharing. And more.

What’s going on here? And what does Pakistan’s growing role mean for the US strategy and long-term influence? We’ll get answers from top regional watchers.

This hour, On Point: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the US.


Ahmed Rashid, journalist and commentator. He’s author of “Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building In Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.”

Larry Goodson, Professor of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Army War College and author of “Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban” and the forthcoming “The Talibanization of Pakistan.”

James Dobbins, Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND National Security Research Division. He’s author of “After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan.”

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  • http://tombstone001.blogspot.com MOHAMMED N. RAZAVI

    May be I am (I AM) jumping the gun, previously I had commented here that Pakistan is on the verge of becoming the next Somalia, that remains true still. Look at what is going on in Karachi, in Quetta, in Peshawar, Swat and Waziristan. The insurgency is out of control, so is the police and the army. Human rights are being trampled upon by all sides,while the people starve. Power remains with the thugs, civilian and police and military thugs.It is not for the benefit of the average person that Pakistan is trying to get a toe hold in Afghanistan. It is, if, and that is a big IF, it for the benefit of the military and the rich. At the same time the equation is complicated by the newly re-announced find of minerals, which makes it difficult for the US to get out of Afghanistan and leave the extraction to the Indians and the Chinese and to a lesser extant to Pakistani’. So the US is in there for good. Simultaneously, and I addressed it before, while we complain about the corruption of the Afghan regime, we keep bribing the Afghans ourselves, not to mention the corruption and bribery in our own defense department and in our contracts, and the kick backs. We can not get rid of the Taliban, we cannot and will not trust the Pakistanis we can not stop bribing everyone there, we do not stop the corruption here. What is the end result we are looking for will we keep killing and getting killed?

  • greg

    Will On-point give the honest truth about Afghanistan or more crap saying we have to say till the jobs done, 10/20/30/40/50 years later. I hope that excuses as to staying in Afghanistan will not take up the whole show.
    While our cities, towns, and states go broke, we spend more and more money fighting overseas creating more enemies, killing civilians yet acting like we care.

    Oh but there’s a mine there and it’s is worth 1 trillion dollars

  • greg


    “have to stay”

  • peter nelson

    Excellent! This means we’ve found another sucker to take on that benighted scrap of squalid real estate.

    This morning on NPR they reported that General Petraeus, the new Number Two in that Village, regards the July 2011 date as the “beginning” of when we will assess our “progress” in Afghanistan, while, silly us, we thought it was the date we were leaving. Ha ha, the joke’s on the Americans again.

    If Pakistan or anyone else has the slightest interest in taking over Afghanistan then I say we do everything in our power to point out the scenic beauty, investment potential, low rents, and other attractive features of Afghanistan and then, quick, before they change their minds, we put on our hats and quietly sneak out the back door.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I saw a network news piece about Western comedy infiltrating Saudi Arabia. A Brit was saying he went to do Standup there and was given the list of out-of-bounds subjects (basically everything, top to bottom, religion to bathroom humor; the list went fast though). But he said he took in on board, and they showed Western standups getting big laughs from big audiences, with women among those entertained. There is a kind of amalgamation that democratizes without weapons.
    An American soldier was reporting something similar on Morning Edition today. Benjamin Tupper, “Combating Computer Illiteracy in Afghanistan,” which he says was the great conquest. The bit that I heard, the Afghans may be untrainable as soldiers, but they gobble up info on how to use computers.
    A new form of amalgamation — see this link.
    javascript:NPR.Player.openPlayer(128167900, 128182621, null, NPR.Player.Action.PLAY_NOW, NPR.Player.Type.STORY, ’0′) It seems strange. Google it yourself.

  • PW

    I wish Peter Nelson and Ellen Dibble (above) were on the panel with the three guests.

    Our military have failed. This isn’t necessarily because our soldiering is bad or our weapons outdated or that our presidents are all idiots — though I wouldn’t rule any of those out altogether. It’s because the most effective America is the America of, well, humor and generosity and communications, not the America of McChrystal and pipelines and arrogant capitalism.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Some Sunday show implanted in my brain that the Taliban, before the United States came in 2001/2002, had killed 400,000 Afghans, presumably mostly if not all civilians. It had to do with their style of governance, I believe, or sort of policing?
    Whereas the number of civilians killed by American military efforts is nowhere near comparable (by a factor of 10 or something like that).
    Oh, it was Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm), who has a new book out (War), and who has spent years in Afghanistan. His point, as I recall, is that the Afghans in no way, shape, or form want the return of Taliban rule. So.
    When I watch the video clips of General Petraeus sort of shouldering his task, and heading for the stairway out of the White House or wherever it was, lippity-clip — as if he was tucking into a Big Mac, focused, determined, and not at all discouraged — then I think about the trillion dollars of ours at stake, and the ways a million dollars a year per soldier deployed might otherwise be spent, and I think, I wouldn’t be going lippity-clip down those stairs with a private smile, not cocky but assured, on my face. But then I’m not General Petraeus.

  • cory

    I don’t care about Afghanistan or Pakistan. We can’t remake either in our own image or control their futures. We can’t afford to try. Let them and everyone else be what they are supposed to be. Anyone who attacks us will pay an ugly price. Let’s start to worry about our own troubles at home.

    I’d like to see a poll of how many Americans care about what happens to Afghans or Pakistanis on a daily basis. If answered honestly I bet the number would be less than 10%.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Does anybody think that maybe Richard Holbrook and Hillary Clinton might not have the right approach in Pakistan? Or that the UN ambassador might be not the right guy? I’m thinking the Bill Clinton administration relationship with Pakistan may be shadowing our now changed situation there.

  • informed American

    Is the Obama administration still naively and foolishly trying pursue peace talks with the Taliban? I sure hope not.

  • rob

    why is pakistan obsessed with india, do they believe india is interested in conquering it ? _IS_ india really interested in conquering it ? or is there some kind of bravado thing going on ?

  • Ellen Dibble

    US needs to make sure other countries with interests participate in a sort of stabilization-of-Afghanistan planning? That to include therefore India? Okay.
    But I’m not at all sure I see the United States making sure Iran is at the table. And look at the length of THAT border. I think I heard that India is collaborating on something at the border with Iran…
    So would India be able to bring Iran “to the table” (out of the sight of Americans?)?

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA

    Can someone explain to me why the poppy crop has to be destroyed? Is there no medicinal market for this product? Why isn’t the United States paying a fair price for this crop, taking the Taliban out of the business? Even if all we did was buy it to destroy the stuff, wouldn’t we still come out ahead?

  • jeffe

    This is about India more than the Taliban. Pakistan wants influence in Afghanistan. One thing is for sure we should get our troops out sooner and not later.

  • Webb Nichols

    The United State should depart from Afghanistan and leave behind forces designed to hunt Al-Qaeda the way one hunts foxes. This is all about economics and the control of resources. It is not worth one American life or any of our financial resources. A nation cannot occupy another nation and do its work.

  • Edward Burke

    I second Donald Baxter’s query above:

    why does the US not simply purchase annual Afghan opium poppy production? My understanding is that raw opium is a $5 billion (US) crop for the Afghan economy; also to my understanding, this is far less than the US is now spending on its Afghan occupation.

    If the US agrees to purchase the country’s entire production annually, then the US can set up domestic Afghan opium markets, which would stand to bring much-needed regularity to daily Afghan life. Disaffected Taliban figures can then be admitted or denied entry to this market in accord with further diplomatic, political, and economic aims. The raw opium could be airlifted to Guam each year, either for incineration or for restricted sales to governments and industries, et cetera. Would such a move not foment regularity to the broader Afghan economy so that other development aims could credibly be pursued?

  • william

    The USA buys the opium from India.

  • Brett

    If I were to distill the three predominant sentiments about Afghanistan, that prevail among many American people, to their lowest common denominators’ essences, and present them in sort of a show tune style…it would go a little something like this:

    1) What we need in Afghanistan is a kind of Dr. Doolittle policy instead of a My Fair Lady policy [as I put on a brown velvet top hat, clear my throat and in Rex Harrison fashion...]: “If we could talk to the Taliban, in Afghanistan, Pakastan would surely come around…”

    2) Or I could say [with a festive, syncopated Calypso beat behind me, in a moderate tempo, please...] “Taliban, Taliban, Taliban bananas…” that we should pick up stakes tomorrow and forget all about Afghanistan!

    3) Or that we should stay and fight in Afghanistan until every last Taliban member has been broken and every last al Qaeda has been killed, and increase troops in places like Somalia and Yemen, not to mention that we should get tough with Pakistan: “…as those caissons go rolling along…”

    Of course, in another option, we are in a very good political position to gradually pul out of Afghanistan starting at the beginning of the date set by the current administration.

    Patraeus is perceived as being able to shift focus of military strategy away from bombing neighborhoods and having long shootouts into providing a situation where more cooperation from Afghan people in their own neighborhoods and brokering with local tribes to get more supplies to the people is possible. People perceive that Patraeus works with Afghan people rather than aggressively imposing our might against them.

    We could bring ten thousand troops home on the date set for next summer and, within three months from that time, we could bring another twenty thousand home, and so on, until, most troops are home over a period of about two years. We could keep a small percentage over there a bit longer performing a continuation of seemingly humanitarian functions.

    By the same token, we could make some kind of agreement with Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, along with Talliban leaders and leaders of the different tribes.

    We could leave the world a perception that we helped stabilize Afghanistan and showed compassion toward its people, that we made some attempt to talk with the various countries affected and with the leaders of a movement we ostensibly were at odds with, that we made an attempt at a deal among all parties concerned, and that we left that part of the world to work out its differences. I think this is the most honorable and elegant thing to do. The appearance of how we exit that country is all that should be left of our concerns.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    It seems to me that getting rid of the Taliban entirely is akin to getting rid of the Republican Party, or if that is not entirely fair (not that I feel like being entirely fair), akin to getting rid of the Tea Party or the various rightwing militias. The Taliban is (it seems to me) an expression of the reactionary mindset of Afghan culture, and thus inexpungable. In Afghanistan as in America or anywhere else, there are always going to be bitter, prudish, violent reactionaries eager to seize the reins of power and try, as William F. Buckley put it so well, to hold up a stop sign to history and progress. It’s useless to try to eliminate such people or movements; better to just try to keep them marginalized … which is something we’re not doing so well here in the US.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    In my comment above I may have given the impression that I consider all Afghan culture to be reactionary. I meant to say the reactionary element in Afghan culture; all cultures possess such an element.

  • Bush’s fault

    Joshua…please provide a link to the Buckley quote: I suspect you are quoting him out of context for your own partisan bias. However, I agree with your conclusion..you are failing at marginalization since the Republicans and the “Tea Party” seem at this time to be the will of the American electorate.

  • Bush’s fault

    In New York State, the troopers can find a pot plant in a corn field. For less than the price of Afghanistan’s poppy crop we should simply send in the New York State Troopers to destroy it. Then compromise the Afghan water supply and their remaining infrastructure. Following that, we offer them the opportunity to manufacture Toyotas and Volkswagens; they gladly surrender and prove once again the value of Japanese and German autos.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    The Buckley quote was not a quote at all; it was a paraphrase essentially capturing the meaning of what he did say. I didn’t use quotation marks, after all. As for whether it is taken out of context, since Buckley isn’t around anymore to provide one, context hardly matters. It was the meaning of his statement that I wanted to use, the one that nearly all conservatives and reactionaries embrace: STOP PROGRESS, IT FRIGHTENS ME!

    By the way, the media’s love of loud cantankerous controversy has made the Tea Party seem more popular than it in fact is. If I am wrong about that, and if it really is “the will of the American electorate”, then we are really and truly screwed. It is only be becoming less selfish that we can clean up this national mess, and the Teabaggers aren’t going to be any help there.

    Also, you use the words “partisan bias” as if that were a bad thing. I am not pretending to be a neutral party. I really do think conservatives and reactionaries are the perennial problem in our world, and I don’t think they’re ever going to go away. As a liberal, I’m used to being marginalized already; I just hope for a future time when it’s the other side that is on the margins.

  • jeffe

    The Tea Party is a minority of maybe 12% of the people who vote. They make a lot of noise and the media and the conservatives have latched on to them.

    As for the Republicans being a representative of the majority well that remains to be seen. Both parties are tools for the corporations, except the Democrat’s at least attempt to through middle classes a bone.

    I was watching a documentary on the history of the Supreme court and what struck me was how corporations were able to manipulate the court and politicians with some creative interpretation of contract law and the Constitution. The Right to Contract has been used in the past to keep workers from gaining fair wages, and collective bargaining by those who say it is against the ideology of what built the country. Of course without labor laws most of us would be working 80 hours a week and so would our children. The Right seems to want to go back to 1905 or 1890. I suppose some would like to go back to the 1840′s.

  • greg

    The only thing on-point about this show was the one-sided talking points as to staying till infinity in Afghanistan, as well as more troops, more troops, cause of course we all know this is going to come up over and over again, the explosion of experts all of a sudden saying the world will end if we leave is not by luck and is preparing the majority clueless public for it.

    Yo On-point how bout a show on the amount of money we borrow to keep the war going and the projections each year for staying there?

  • Ishmael

    You can psychoanalyze this situation ad infinitum. Organizations like AQ are in other regions now anyhow (Yemen/Africa) and the terrorism network is becoming intractable, thanks to pushing them out of the ME. To keep a place like Afghanistan nonthreatening, you have to stay there and babysit forever (until heroin is legalized anyhow, but that is another topic).
    Anyone in favor of another “forever war”, raise your hand.
    If the US can’t handle things in the longest war in its history so far, what reason is there to believe it will ever end?

  • Ishmael

    Incidentally no one need apologize to the far right including teabaggers, about anything. They are also known as “US Taliban” and the same personality types are currently in Afghanistan promoting sharia.

  • http://voiceofkarachi.blogspot.com/ Faheem

    Mrs. Clinton revealed, “We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan” for a long time. US President Obama has already announced to start withdrawal of US troops from July 2011.

    On the other hand, India wants to entrap America permanently in Afghanistan so as to achieve its secret goals by harming the US interests. If US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Karzai whose regime depends upon their troops will fall like palace of cards due to the unmatched Taliban militancy. India which has established a number of secret training facilities in Afghanistan from where well-trained militants along with arms are being sent to Pakistan in order to attack the security personnel including western nationals will not be in a position to maintain them in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban. New Delhi which also wants to get strategic depth against Pakistan for which it has increased its military installations in Afghanistan will not be able to continue its anti-Pakistan activities. In this respect, on September 20, 2009, the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal in his report on the Afghan war admitted: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan including significant development efforts…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Faheem, you say, “India which has established a number of secret training facilities in Afghanistan from where well-trained militants along with arms are being sent to Pakistan in order to attack the security personnel including western nationals” (will have to retrench if the US leaves, Indian forces being then unable to withstand the Afghan Taliban). You refer to the secret training facilities as “military installations.”
    So the Indian training facilities are to be sent to Pakistan to go after (among others) “western nationals” — meaning Americans in Pakistan?
    Both the perspective on Pakistan that jumped the gun up top on the discussion and Faheem’s post seem important to me. Views generated in the USA media (and presented in the USA) tend to be bifurcated sort of like the Republican/Democrat split, and one is always trying to see through certain pretty well established “spins.”

  • http://hmajeed73@yahoo.com haroon

    sorry to say that america is the bone of contention
    and the nxt presedent will be inshallah sadar nawaz sharif and he is excellent. zardari is not qualified and is a great murder.

  • ken longert

    heard on NPR Karzai Care comedy satire on Karzai how do I find it?

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