US Lawmakers Assess Challenges in Afghanistan

Members of Congress have heard from foreign affairs experts about challenges the United States faces in carrying out President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  A House of Representatives National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee discussed the stakes for countries in the region and the role they could play in helping to encourage stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan last week, President Obama underscored the importance of regional cooperation, and the need to include such countries as China, India, Russia and others.

House subcommittee chairman Democrat John Tierney said the importance of outside influences where Afghanistan and Pakistan are concerned cannot be under-emphasized.

"Unless all regional actors are engaged with and ultimately view a stable Afghanistan and Pakistan as being in their own best interests, these neighbors will continue to exert behind the scenes pressure and up front material support to their Afghan proxies," said John Tierney. "It's hoped that one day these regional actors will not only withhold from playing harmful roles but will in fact play positive and constructive ones."

From China and Russia, to Central Asian states, and Pakistan and India, witnesses agreed on the need for regional cooperation.

Where India and Pakistan are concerned the picture is complex, involving longstanding rivalries and Pakistani suspicions about Indian intentions in Afghanistan.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain says  one challenge facing the Obama administration is to persuade Pakistan and India that old rivalries should be set aside to confront one common enemy.

"The fact, if we are all very honest with ourselves, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the United States are all facing the same enemy in this region, and that enemy is al-Qaida and the al-Qaida-like terrorist networks that are attacking both us, the far enemy, and the local governments, the near enemy," said Wendy Chamberlain.

Chamberlain warns against placing conditions on economic assistance to Pakistan, saying the U.S. must demonstrate to the people of Pakistan that it will not abandon them.

Lisa Curtis, with The Heritage Foundation, says increasing U.S. aid to Pakistan, as proposed in legislation sponsored by Senator John Kerry, must balance strengthening moderate forces with ending Pakistani links to extremists.

She says U.S. efforts in Afghanistan must also take into account continuing Pakistani concerns about its regional influence vis a vis India, and longer-term Indian influence in Afghanistan.

"I think it is India's interest to ensure that its involvement in Afghanistan is transparent to Pakistan and the U.S. has a role to play in ensuring this," said Lisa Curtis. "We of course should address forthrightly Pakistan's concerns but at the same time dismiss any accusations that are unfounded."

Deepa Ollapally, of George Washington University's Sigur Center for Asian Studies, says the Obama administration's plan for Afghanistan, involving a new contact group including India, will have a beneficial effect.

"The current strategy which has been to allow Pakistan veto power over India's involvement in formulating regional solutions to the Afghan crisis is not working, and frankly it rewards Pakistan for its behavior so far," said Deepa Ollapally.

On China's role in Afghanistan, Sean Roberts of George Washington University's International Development Studies Program says Beijing's focus will remain focused on economic interests, and stability could only be of help in that respect.

As for Russia, Roberts says Moscow could play a critically important role in a regional approach on Afghanistan but can be expected to look out for its own interests.

"While Russia is interested in preventing Chechen separatists from obtaining support and refuge in Afghanistan, it also retains serious issues of wounded pride in connection with the Soviet failure to develop Afghanistan in the 1970's and 1980's," said Sean Roberts. "In this context, Russia may not be too happy to see the U.S. succeed where it has failed.  Furthermore Russia is extremely suspicious of U.S. interests in central Asia and it tends to view U.S. engagement in Afghanistan as part of a larger campaign to get a foothold in the region."

Roberts says Russia could undermine U.S. influence, citing what he called Russian pressure on Kyrgyzstan to close a key air base to U.S forces, and would also exercise influence in the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization dealing with Central Asian security.

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Program, says U.S. engagement with Iran on Afghanistan would bring little cost but potentially big benefits.

Sadjadpour suggests the Obama administration could achieve more by separating the most sensitive issues in the U.S.-Iranian relationship, such as Iran's nuclear program and its support for terrorist groups, from the question of cooperation on Afghanistan:

"In the short-term I don't think anyone has any illusions we are going to reach a compromise with Iran on their support Hezbollah, on their support for Hamas, or I think in the short-term certainly no one has any illusions there is going to be a any breakthroughs on the nuclear issue," said Karim Sadjadpour. "I don't think this should preclude U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan, on the contrary I think trying to build confidence on Afghanistan could well have a positive effect on those other issues."

Sadjapour says the United States and Iran have important overlapping interests in Afghanistan, including combating the narcotics trade and preventing a return to power of the Taliban.

On Afghanistan, and other issues, he says the best course for the Obama administration would be to encourage Iranian cooperation as a responsible stakeholder in the region.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs