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Debate Intensifies on New US Strategy on Pakistan, Afghanistan


President Obama's new strategy on Pakistan and Afghanistan is coming under greater scrutiny in the U.S. Congress as lawmakers consider more military and development aid for the two countries. The lawmakers want more accountability and some are questioning whether providing more aid is the answer. Analysts at Washington's think tanks are also weighing in with opinions on the new strategy.

Taliban insurgents this week carried out attacks on both sides of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. They staged suicide bombings near Afghan government buildings and a U.S. military base in Afghanistan's Khost province. They also targeted trucks carrying NATO supplies near Peshawar in Pakistan.

The Taliban's resurgence has heightened the debate in Washington over President Obama's new strategy for the region.

Stability linked to success

President Obama has linked success in Afghanistan to stability in Pakistan, where the radical Taliban movement has been on the rise.

"We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan," President Obama said.

President Obama has asked the Congress for $400 million in immediate emergency aid for Pakistan to fight insurgency. He has also asked for a sizable increase in development aid for Afghanistan.

But some senators argue that the Bush administration provided more than $12 billion to Pakistan, but with no concrete results.

Lawmakers demand accountability


And at a Senate committee hearing this week, lawmakers from both political parties demanded more accountability for the aid going to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Republican Senator James Risch says he is stunned by a lack of progress in Afghanistan, which he called a "black hole" with no bottom.

"It is just breathtaking, the amount of money, the American lives we've spent there, and you have a government that has control maybe to the outskirts of the capital," he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the administration's special representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan, responded by saying benchmarks will be set to measure progress.

But the U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan is also raising concern. Mr. Obama has ordered the deployment of 21,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to help strengthen the war effort in the southern part of the country.

Democrat Senator Russ Feingold says he fears this could force Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to flee into Pakistan.

"Are you sure that the troop buildup in Afghanistan will not be counterproductive vis-à-vis Pakistan?" he asked.

"No. I am only sure that we are aware of the problem, that we are working intensely with the Pakistani army," Holbrooke responded.

Holbrooke said the United States is encouraging Pakistan to move more troops to its western border.

Afghanistan must play its part

But some lawmakers say stability in Afghanistan will not be achieved solely through military means. They say the Afghan government will have to curb poppy production and end corruption.

To do this, analysts such as counterterrorism expert Fred Kagan say any successful strategy must include bringing much needed rule of law in Afghanistan.

"What they do need is someone who can make decisions about land and property disputes and enforce them," Kagan said. "And a failure to develop a rule of law system that addresses that problem has created one of the openings that allows the Taliban to function. We have to focus on this."

Experts say President Obama will also have to find more effective ways to expand and improve Afghan security forces, and to improve the U.S ability to overcome the propaganda by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

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