In the Arena

Af/Pak Expertise

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Steve Coll of the New Yorker, the American journalist who has done some of the best writing about the Af/Pak region, offers this positive assessment of the Obama strategy.

After an initial paragraph about his other obsession–Obama’s stimulus package, Coll gets down to business and makes this important point:

For the first time in decades, the entire American foreign policy and national security system—the uniformed military, the State Department, the N.S.C.—really bore down on the problem of Pakistan, in all of its daunting complexity. Past patterns of failure in American analysis and policy toward Pakistan—such as credulity toward the Army and the military intelligence service, I.S.I.; the tendency to invest heavily in personalities, rather than in sustainable policy; and a general naĬveté and lack of attention—gave way gradually to hard-headed, pragmatic discourse about the true nature of the problems in Pakistan, and U.S. options for addressing them.

Of course, Coll concludes, that having the correct analysis and strategy is no guarantee of success–and, in his opinion, Pakistan remains the nub of the problem, much more daunting than Afghanistan:

Preventing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from expanding their Gaza-like base in Western Pakistan or making further inroads against the state; encouraging and coercing the Pakistan Army to break with its long history of support for jihadi clients; rescuing the Pakistani economy from collapse; establishing a sustainable basis for power-sharing between civilian politicians and the Army that does not in turn weaken the state against its insurgent enemies—it is hard to imagine a more difficult or more treacherous complex of problems. In Afghanistan, it is almost certainly not too late to set things right. In Pakistan, it is harder to be sure.

I’ll be returning to the region for a brief trip later this week and, undoubtedly, will have more to say after I’ve been there.

Update: The chaos continues, now spread to Lahore, a lovely and cultured city. One wonders when the Pakistani military and intelligence services will stop indulging their Taliban clients.