President Obama's Toughest Challenge Abroad?

Now the hard part begins, and there may be no harder spot on the planet for President Barack Obama than Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The unreliable border between those two countries will help determine whether some of the tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan will come home in body bags; whether al Qaeda can launch another attack; and whether the Taliban can continue to destabilize both countries economically and politically.

As the U.S. military begins to double down in Afghanistan, adding as many as 30,000 troops to the 32,000 already there, much of Obama's attention will be on Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, seven mostly lawless districts along the border.

There, a coalition of Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, and criminals have helped make the last year-and-a-half the most violent time in Afghanistan and Pakistan's recent history.

In Afghanistan, more civilians and troops died last year than in any year since the war began. In Pakistan, militants have killed thousands of civilians and soldiers, sent suicide attackers into the heart of Pakistan's cities, and spread unprecedented fear -- conditions that have helped cripple the once growing Pakistani economy to the point of near default.

The problem is not a purely military one, analysts here insist. It is as much, if not more, about hearts and minds as it is about targeting al Qaeda's leaders with CIA unmanned predator drones.

"In the 80s, every Pashtun was with you. You helped make every Pashtun a mujahedeen against the Soviets," said Ayaz Wazir, a former Pakistani envoy to Afghanistan, referring to Pakistan and the U.S. successfully mobilizing much of Pakistani society against the Soviet occupation. "But today, every Pashtun is against you, because you are doing nothing but killing. You have to change that."

Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

That is something that Vice President Joe Biden has acknowledged, sponsoring a bill last year that would triple non-military aid to Pakistan, giving $15 billion over the next 10 years. Much of that money would go toward developing the tribal areas, trying to create jobs and improve education.

That bill could go a long way toward eliminating widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan today, a feeling that has helped prevent Pakistanis from opposing the Taliban.

In a rare interview last year, the deputy U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, Gerald Feierstein, said there had been an overemphasis on the military aspects of the war on terror.

"Until we give the people in that region alternative visions for themselves and for their children, there is always going to be this tilt toward these extremists' messages," he said.

"What we need to do is give people an alternative narrative for hope for the future. And that's really much more important in terms of how we're ultimately going to achieve success in that part of the world than anything we're going to do in terms of kinetic activity."

But the U.S. also says it needs the more than 100,000 Pakistani troops stationed in the tribal areas to effectively battle the Taliban.

And the frontline troops there are Frontier Corps paramilitary soldiers, who are not as well equipped -- and possibly not as motivated -- as they need to be to defeat a homegrown Islamic insurgency.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Ebola patients Nina Pham, left, Dr. Craig Spencer, center, and Amber Vinson are seen in undated file photos.
Courtesy Pham Family | LinkedIn | Obtained by ABC
PHOTO: Television personalities Mama June and Honey Boo Boo are seen in this, June 11, 2014, file photo.
Douglas Gorenstein/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images
PHOTO: Overall winner for the Wildlife Photography of the Year 2014, The last great picture by Michael Nick Nichols.
Michael Nick Nichols/Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014