One small part of President Obama's much-heralded speech in Cairo this week hit squarely the two key planks of both the US and the UK's Afghanistan/Pakistan policy: 1) a promise to bring troops out as soon as we are confident that there is no threat eminating from" violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans [or Brits] as they possibly can"; and 2) a promise to continue building and strengthening our respective relationships with the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments and people, not least through long-term, non-military assistance programmes.
Obama said: "make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there". To the extent that we can work out accurately the motivations of the various parts of the insurgency in Afghanistan, we continually find that straightforward nationalism plays a part (just one part). The stationing of one country's troops on another country's soil has always, and almost universally, generated this characteristic, anywhere in the world. The people of Afghanistan, of whichever ethnic group, are no exception. We need to continue to make clear that we have no designs on any form of long-term, military occupation of these proud people.
But in the same breath, this policy needs to be balanced by another clear message - again President Obama brought it out in his speech. While the US and UK, and all our other allies, want to bring our combat troops home as soon as we can, we also want to emphasise that our governments are setting up a long-term commitment to support Afghanistan and Pakistan, politically and through our respective overseas aid departments. Obama said: "we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who have been displaced". The UK has commited $811 million to Afghanistan over the next four years - this is one our our biggest overseas aid commitments. We need to reinforce the message at every turn that we are not going to cut and run. We will not leave both coutries to whatever fate befalls them, once we decide that the threat to us has subsided.
Today, our Prime Minister announced the British strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. In truth it was an update to the strategy that he first announced on December 12 2007. The situation has certainly moved on since then; one of the biggest changes has been the new US policy developed by President Obama. So we did need to review where we were going, and make the necessary changes. Those interested in the detail behind the PM's speech can read more in our White Paper which sets out the way forward.
The main themes in our approach should be familiar to people who have watched the policy debate unfold in the US over the last six months or so:
• while Afghanistan and Pakistan are very different countries, demanding very different approaches, we do need to ensure coherance and coordination between those approaches;
• the cancerous insurgency rife on both sides of the Durand Line can and will only be defeated by a comprehensive approach - with political, military and development strands;
• ultimately it is the people and leadership of those two countries who must come out on top - we must therefore help and support both the people and their governing and security institutions to do just that;
• concentrating on the central government machinery is not enough - local (district and provincial) structures must also be built up and given the confidence to take ownership of their own futures;
• reconciliation, or at the least acknowledging that there will have to be some form of political settlement in the final analysis, is a key part of the approach;
• and finally - most importantly - we should all understand that this problem is a shared problem. It is not just a concern of the US, or the UK, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or indeed anyone else. It is in the interests of all of us to carve out a pathway to peace in that part of the world, for our own collective interests. So we should act as a team, with all the various players contributing whatever makes most sense to them, whether that is infantry, money, civilian mentors or even favourable commercial terms for Afghanistan's licit agricultural exports
The terrible suicide attack at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last weekend has caused me to step back and reflect. Like everyone else, I was shocked at its brutality, and send my condolences to all involevd.
Pakistan is precariously poised, no doubt. On the one hand it suffers from instability in its border areas, which we all fear will spread to militancy and terrorism outside Pakistan. On the other its economy badly needs a shot in the arm - essentially a huge and complex package of aid - and its newly elected civilian government needs all the support it can get.
We, the US and others all want to help and support the new government of Pakistan in its tough task ahead; gatherings of foreign ministers in New York this week are bringing coherence to this. But there is tension there: one problem requires the tactics and tools of a hard-core security strategy, complete with military hardware and trainers; the other necessitates long-term political and developmental strategies adressing educational needs and institutional reform. Inevitably the former wins the priority battle when plans for terrorist activity are either uncovered or, much worse, carried out. But both are needed in a sustained manner. We all must keep a sense of perspective, and our eyes fixed on the long-term goal. I thought this editorial in the respected Pakistani newspaper The Dawn helped to remind us of that need.