Afghanistan / Pakistan

Afghanistan Suc­cess Depends on Pak­istan, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2009 — With­out suc­cess on the Pak­istan side of the bor­der, efforts to rid both it and Afghanistan of the Tal­iban will be sig­nif­i­cant­ly hard­er, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee today while tes­ti­fy­ing on the fis­cal 2010 defense bud­get request.
That suc­cess will be more dif­fi­cult if the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment refus­es to take the fight to the mil­i­tants with­in its country’s bor­ders, Gates said. But tra­di­tion­al thought may prove hard to over­come.

For all of Pakistan’s his­to­ry, India has been the exis­ten­tial threat,” he said. “I think actu­al­ly it was only with the Taliban’s going too far and mov­ing their oper­a­tions into Buner, just 60 miles or so from Islam­abad, that for the first time they real­ly got the atten­tion of the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment.”

Recent actions of the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and its army have indi­cat­ed the gov­ern­ment now under­stands the nature of the threat to it and is pre­pared to take action to deal with the threat, Gates said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke before the com­mit­tee. He acknowl­edged increas­ing sup­port from the Pak­istani peo­ple to deter the mil­i­tants’ threat to their coun­try and the government’s stepped-up coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions, but he expressed reser­va­tions about sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

My biggest ques­tion about these oper­a­tions is [the government’s] abil­i­ty to sus­tain them over time,” he said. “Right now I’m encour­aged by what’s hap­pened, but I cer­tain­ly with­hold any judg­ment about where it goes, because of the lack … of his­toric sus­tain­ment.”

In addi­tion to the coun­terin­sur­gency effort on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der, Gates said, suc­cess in Afghanistan also relies on turn­ing the country’s agri­cul­ture away from the pop­py crop that sup­plies drug traf­fick­ers and finances crim­i­nal and ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties.

Before 30 years of war, Afghanistan … had a strong agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor, and in fact export­ed … a vari­ety of food,” he said. “So the notion of get­ting them to adopt alter­na­tive crops is not fan­ci­ful, but we have to fig­ure out a strat­e­gy where they get the mon­ey and the seeds and the abil­i­ty to sus­tain their fam­i­lies before they get rid of their pop­py crop.”

The sec­re­tary acknowl­edged Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s con­cerns about pre­ci­sion coali­tion airstrikes and their effect on Afghan civil­ians, but added that the use of air­pow­er can’t be elim­i­nat­ed. For­go­ing that capa­bil­i­ty, he said, would be like try­ing to fight the war “with one hand tied behind our back.”

That said,” he con­tin­ued, “one of the charges, I think, for the new com­man­ders, will be to look at how we can do this in a way that fur­ther lim­its inno­cent civil­ian casu­al­ties in Afghanistan, but also gets the truth out to the Afghan peo­ple about what’s real­ly going on.”

By Saman­tha L. Quigley
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice