WASHINGTON, Nov 9: One of the first priorities of the Obama administration will be to reassess US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, his aides say.
And as a first step, he has appointed Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and adviser to three US presidents on South Asia and the Middle East as his adviser on Pakistan.
His aides say that Mr Obama is impressed with Mr Riedel’s views and it was on his advice that Mr Obama spoke of the need to resolve the Kashmir dispute in an interview with a US television network last weekend.
According to these aides, one of Mr Riedel’s long-time themes is that resolving the Kashmir dispute is essential for fighting terrorism.
But in doing so, Mr Riedel does not emphasise the need to restoring the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir. Instead, he advocates finding a solution that satisfies India and ends Pakistan’s excuse for lingering the dispute.
A major part of Mr Riedel’s theory for ending conflicts in South Asia deals with persuading Pakistan to accept India’s influence in the region and stop its efforts to counter India by promoting its own interests in places like Afghanistan.
By persuading India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute, Mr Riedel also hopes to refocus the Pakistani military on fighting militants within its border, a point Mr Obama also stressed in his interview to CNN last week. But this over-emphasis on the military option is already worrying experts on the Afghan conflict.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who is now an adviser to the Commander US Central Command Gen David Petraeus, said in an interview that instead of over-emphasising the military option, the Obama administration should develop “a regional approach” to ending the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“That means bringing in the neighbouring countries: Iran, India, and the five Central Asian states, and then resolving some of these regional problems — like the disputes between India and Pakistan, between Iran and the Americans, between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Washington-based South Asia analyst Marvin Weinbaum, who advised Mr Obama on Afghanistan and Pakistan during the campaign, told Dawn he was confident that Mr Obama would not follow the policies of the Bush administration.
The Obama administration, said Mr Weinbaum, would increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan but he would also negotiate and seek compromise where possible.
“There is a consensus, even in the American military, that there is no, strictly speaking, military solution. It is one which may involve the military in order to be in a position to negotiate without having to concede surrender to your enemy,” Mr Weinbaum said.
Mr Weinbaum noted that in his latest interview on this issue, Mr Obama also urged the Afghan government to improve governance, provide security and jobs to its people and to expand its reign beyond Kabul.
Mr Weinbaum also noted that while Mr Obama did not oppose the idea of trying the Iraqi model of arming local tribesmen to fight insurgents in Afghanistan, he stressed that the situation in Afghanistan was different from Iraq.
Christine Fair, a senior political analyst at the RAND Corporation, said she had strong doubts about copying the Iraqi model in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In an interview to a US media outlet, Ms Fair said that even in Iraq, this policy was already having “unintended consequences.”
“I am an opponent of this because it never works. In fact, in the case of Afghanistan, we are where we are today because we choose to outsource securing Afghanistan to [people who are] basically warlords. There is no reason to believe that it will be successful, except in a very short-term definition of success.”