Thursday, December 16

Top U.S. civilian advisor: Time to wean Pakistan from "a very rich diet of carrots"

In an interview with Matthew Green for Financial Times, which Bloomberg picked up on (thank you Bloomberg!) Bill Harris, who stepped down last month as the top US civilian official in Kandahar, made these observations:
“We have put the government in Islamabad on a very rich diet of carrots for 10 years and nobody should be surprised that they have developed a taste for it,” he said. “I do believe that it’s past time for some absolute straight talk in that bilateral relationship.

“We’re on the bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight this war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open.”

His comments reflect mounting concern that growing flows of US aid are doing little to persuade Pakistan’s security forces to stop covertly supporting Afghan insurgents.
Mr Harris said sanctuaries in Pakistan had assumed greater importance for the Taliban after the summer influx of US troops in Kandahar province, the Taliban heartland, pushing many militants across the border.

Mr Harris, a veteran diplomat, said he fears insurgents will continue to slip back into Afghanistan to disrupt attempts to help Kabul extend its presence into areas where US and Afghan forces have provided a degree of security.

“In my year in Kandahar, I had not seen any progress whatsoever in stemming the flow in people and capacity for the Taliban across that southern border,” he said.
Kindly read Green's entire report, which isn't long, to get your hopes dashed that Harris's well-informed opinion will make a dent in the U.S. practice of stuffing Pakistan with carrots. It's not as if Harris is the only informed American who's warned that the practice is counterproductive. What stands in the way of reason and right action are arguments having no basis in fact, but which have been repeated so often they're accepted in Washington as canonical.

The Times report mentions three such arguments: Pakistan's desire to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan, NATO's reliance on Pakistan as a supply route, and the need to foster better cooperation with Pakistan's military, which are used to rationalize throwing good aid money after bad.

That last argument is an example of Red Queen logic, which requires up-ending rationality to reach agreement with nonsense. It certainly is turning the world upside down to argue that greater cooperation with a military that's fostering the murder of your troops is the way to stop the carnage.

I suppose one can cite the omission of the Kashmir canard from the Times report as a sign of hope, but even if one can knock down all the false arguments it's too late because the ship has left the pier: the latest round of U.S. humanitarian aid to Pakistan will be a bonanza for American contractors. Thusly, the continuing vested interest in holding U.S. defense policy hostage in Wonderland.

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