Spending blood and treasure on Pakistan

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On November 26, 2008, in the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, gunmen terrorized Mumbai, India’s financial capital, with a siege that claimed 166 lives. The event would have profound implications for the Obama presidency. Blame for the carnage was quickly laid at the doorstep of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani Islamist group long deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, and intelligence showed that LeT was known to sometimes train at camps in Pakistan with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghan intelligence, argues that the focus of the American war on terror should be on Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The heart of the Taliban is in Pakistan, and it is from Pakistani sources, official and otherwise, that the Taliban draws support. Groups like LeT, and others, thrive in Pakistan; some of them are even creations of Pakistani intelligence. Al-Qaeda’s leadership has taken refuge in Pakistan for years.

The Mumbai attacks thrust into the headlines a reality that should already have been on the minds of the president-elect’s foreign policy team. American goals for the war on terror are intimately linked to the relations between India and Pakistan. The peace we hope for Afghanistan cannot exist without meaningful progress between India and Pakistan. The root of the terrorist activity in Pakistan is Pakistan’s insecurity and paranoia about India.

The situation in Pakistan is grim. Osama bin Laden hid in plain sight in a large, comfortable home in Pakistan’s equivalent of Annapolis, Maryland. It stretches credulity, to say the least, to suggest that bin Laden was there for years without the knowledge or support of the Pakistani military or intelligence leadership. This is hardly the first time that something like this has happened. 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Rawalpindi, which is the headquarters of the Pakistani army.

Despite the importance of the situation, there is no evidence of progress since President Obama took office. On the contrary, one episode after another has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fallout from the WikiLeaks scandal was ugly for American-Afghan relations, and American-Pakistani relations deteriorated in the wake of the January shooting of two Pakistanis in Lahore by an American. These incidents revealed deep resentment toward American policy before the bin Laden raid. Since the raid, U.S. relations with Pakistan have unraveled almost completely.

Incredibly, there is scant evidence that policy makers in Washington are even thinking about how to ease tensions between India and Pakistan. Therefore, there is no meaningful plan for Afghanistan or the region. When, for example, was the last time there was any official discussion about resolving the Kashmir dispute?

This is a sorry state of affairs for a president who disdained his predecessor for, to his mind, damaging the reputation of the United States abroad by failing as a diplomat. In the absence of leadership from the White House, the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is a stalemate.

It is an expensive stalemate. The recent agreement on legislation to fund the federal government through the end of Fiscal Year 2011 includes $110 billion for the war in Afghanistan. This is the most the U.S. government has spent in Afghanistan since the conflict began, and more than twice what the U.S. will spend on the troops in Iraq this year. The U.S. also sends billions of dollars every year to Pakistan, money that is diverted into military projects designed to thwart India. Meanwhile, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is warning that the national debt, not terrorism, is the biggest threat to our national security.

To achieve U.S. security objectives, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India must be considered together as part of a regional strategy. American diplomatic efforts should focus intensively on resolving conflicts and disputes between India and Pakistan. To secure a safer world, while preserving our nation’s blood and treasure, U.S. actions ultimately must be realigned with U.S. interests.

Charles E. Kilbourne served in former Governor George E. Pataki’s administration. Subsequently, he has worked extensively in various capacities in the fields of international affairs and international economics. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree from Georgetown University.