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Holbrooke Calls for More Aid to Pakistan


Amb. Richard Holbooke speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. (c-span.org)

Congress may have appropriated the first installment of a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan, but Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, urged an even greater increase in assistance to “broaden out” the U.S. relationship with a nation he called crucial to the U.S.’s national security.

[Security1]“We will not be able to succeed in Afghanistan unless our policy in Pakistan is equally successful,” Holbrooke said Tuesday evening in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. It was his first major public address since President Obama announced a troop increase for Afghanistan on Dec. 1.

U.S. aid to Pakistan is controversial in both countries. In Pakistan, the recent U.S. funding package, known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, was denounced by members the Pakistani military as an intrusion of Pakistani sovereignty — though its congressional architects, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), insisted that it contained “no conditions on Pakistan attached” to any aspect of its aid to the Pakistani government. And in the United States, controversy has swirled over the reluctance of the Pakistanis to confront the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, believed to be hiding in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. “It would be very helpful if additional pressure could be put [by Pakistan] on the leadership elements that are causing problems in Afghanistan,” Holbrooke’s military counterpart, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and South Asia, said on Sunday.

But in his remarks to the Council, Holbrooke specifically declined an invitation from Michael Gordon of The New York Times, the event’s moderator, to join Petraeus in publicly pressuring the Pakistanis to go after the Afghan Taliban. “Obviously, we want them do as much as they will do,” Holbrooke said, appearing to be sensitive to Pakistani concerns about the U.S. issuing orders to Islamabad. “But I’m not going to sit here and demand of a sovereign country what they have to do.”

Instead, Holbrooke said, the U.S. sought to “broaden out our attention to Pakistan” in an attempt to look beyond terrorism and toward a long-term relationship. Several administration officials have said in recent background discussions that convincing Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban and the associated network of Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin — proxies cultivated by the Pakistanis in the 1980s and 1990s — first requires demonstrating to the Pakistanis that the Obama administration is attentive to Pakistan’s broader diplomatic, economic and security concerns. President Obama, in his Dec. 1 address at West Point, notably made few demands of the Pakistanis.

Accordingly, Holbrooke discussed Pakistan’s ongoing economic problems, such as large textile mills shuttered by the global economic crisis and other economic unrest that “creat[es] instability.” He said that U.S. aid in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill was designed to assist the Pakistanis with “large projects” in sectors like energy, water, education and health care. “My own personal view is we ought to increase the aid to Pakistan,” Holbrooke said, including to the Pakistani military. He praised the military for its “considerable progress this year” against extremists in the Swat Valley and in South Waziristan.

It is unclear whether Congress will be receptive to another funding request. In addition to the Kerry-Berman-Lugar bill, the administration received $400 million from Congress this year for assistance to the Pakistani military’s counterinsurgency operations. And in testimony last week, the civilian and military ground commanders of the Afghanistan war, Amb. Karl Eikenberry and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, indicated that the administration would seek additional money to help fund the Afghanistan troop increase and associated build-up of civilian officials. Spokespeople for Kerry and Berman, the chairs of the Senate and House foreign affairs committees, did not comment by press time.

There has been Washington chatter in recent months that Holbrooke’s place in the administration has been uncertain, particularly after Kerry, and not Holbrooke, brokered a way out of the summer’s Afghan electoral impasse with President Hamid Karzai. The well-attended event on Tuesday night appeared to be designed to dispel any impression of Holbrooke’s diminished stature, as the ambassador made repeated references to his upcoming travel schedule on behalf of the administration’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

One regional expert who has met with Holbrooke recently said that the special representative was focused on coordinating the civilian efforts of the vast U.S. national security bureaucracy in support of the war effort. “He’s got a huge team over there,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “He prides himself these days with forging ahead with a revolution in bureaucracy, to get things like the Agriculture Department and USAID in sync.” Indeed, at the Council, Holbrooke asked seventeen members of his staff from across the different federal agencies to stand up and introduce themselves.

The last time Holbrooke issued a major Washington address was in August, also an event designed to showcase his interagency team. But that address was overshadowed by his admission that success in Afghanistan was amorphous. “We’ll know it when we see it,” Holbrooke said in August.

This time, he didn’t touch the subject of how the U.S. would recognize success, and even brushed aside a question about the administration’s list of metrics and benchmarks to measure its progress. “Quite honestly, they’re pretty technical,” Holbrooke said, adding that to “go into them now would be diversionary.”

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