Accessibility links

Experts Voice Concerns About US Approach on Pakistan, Afghanistan

Experts appearing before a congressional panel have voiced concerns about U.S. policies toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill on testimony before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee by former State Department and military officials.

The hearing came as lawmakers digest findings of the [U.S.] Government Accountability Office (GAO) about the impact of more than $5 billion given Pakistan to help it fight al-Qaida and Taliban forces, since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The $5.5 - billion figure is part of more than $10 billion Pakistan has received from the United States since 2002.

Among major points in a preview of a full report to be released soon: a lack of oversight of U.S. Coalition Support Funds, unsuccessful efforts by the Pakistan Army in defeating terrorist forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan, and deficiencies in counter-insurgency capabilities, equipment and training.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, a Democrat from California:

"Why is the U.S. Government being asked to reimburse Pakistan for air defense radar maintenance? Al-Qaida is not known to have an air force and the purpose of these funds is to support the fight against extremists, not to boost Pakistan's conventional warfare capability," said Howard Berman. "This calls into question not just the value this administration has put on these tax dollars, but the effectiveness of what they are doing to keep us safe."

Former U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke and Thomas Pickering focused on the issue of U.S. assistance to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also on broader questions of U.S. policy.

Holbrooke criticizes U.S. assistance plans for Pakistan's tribal areas, calling a $750-million five-year plan, in his words, pathetic, and referring to one of the GAO's findings.

"It is absolutely true as the GAO has said that there is no strategy for the United States," said Richard Holbrooke. "Worse than that, the Pakistani government, which is focused on its internal domestic lineup in this new era of democracy in Pakistan after a decade of military rule, is also not clear what it is doing."

Both Holbrooke and Pickering stress the fragility of Afghanistan, and what they say is the lack of an effective overall U.S. and NATO strategy.

Pickering says stronger Pakistan federal government control in the tribal areas will not be easy against the background of Pakistani political developments.

"We now have an electoral process, parties that have moved to the fore as a result of democratic competition, parties which are strange bedfellows historically and which have had not in my view had a fantastically remarkable track record either in governance or indeed in honesty in government," said Thomas Pickering. "They will somehow have to be dealt with, in a new conundrum, to move them ahead, they will have to assume the responsibility I believe for trying to make progress in the FATA area."

Pickering says failure in Afghanistan would mean new threats from the Taliban and al-Qaida from their Pakistani sanctuary.

He and Holbrooke share pessimism about Afghanistan with Major General James Jones, a former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Among a range of problems, Jones points to burgeoning opium cultivation and an inadequately - Afghan trained police force, and says no amount of NATO troop contributions will be sufficient without Afghan government accountability.

"The Karzai government in my view has to be held accountable to the international community for doing the things it can do, for the expansion and reach of its influence, for stamping out corruption in the government and doing the things that the international community deserves to expect from a government that is benefiting so much from the sacrifice in both treasure and lives by so many countries around the world," said General Jones.

General Jones also had this observation about Afghanistan's problems and what they might mean for Pakistan:

"I have a sense that the problem with regard to Afghanistan and in fact the region could be migrating East, and that is not a good thing," he said. "We certainly want Pakistan to be a free and democratic state, but I am troubled by the fact that the largest proportional increase in suicide bombings is in fact in Pakistan now, not in Afghanistan or in Iraq and usually that is the precursor of worrisome things."

California Republican Ed Royce finds it difficult to be more optimistic that U.S. Aid money can stabilize Pakistan's frontier areas.

"I think we are bringing our mindsets and our structures to Pakistan instead of dealing with it as it is and as I think it is going to continue to be, because the rapid transformation of Pakistani society we are seeing is primarily the Talibanization of the country as these maddrassas [Islamic fundamentalist schools] graduate more and more students," said Ed Royce.

Democrats are citing GAO findings about U.S. Assistance in criticizing Bush administration policies toward Pakistan, with two Senate lawmakers saying this week that future funding must be subject to strict guarantees that money is being used to fight terrorism.