WASHINGTON: The late US special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, wanted Washington and the international community to commit $ 50 billion to stimulate Pakistan’s economic development and convinced former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of forging a strategic partnership with the country, says a new book by a former American official.
The book “The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat”, by Vali Nasr, who served as advisor to Holbrooke at the State Department, offers a critique of the White House’s handling of the foreign policy issues under President Barack Obama’s first administration.
To create a new narrative in US-Pakistan relations, Nasr writes, Holbrooke started by calling together a meeting in Tokyo of the newly created Friends of Democratic Pakistan, an international gathering to help Pakistan rebuild its economy and strengthen democratic politics.
He got $5 billion in pledges to assist Pakistan. Nasr, who worked with Holbrooke until his death in December 2010, says Holbrooke hoped that the opening would garner even more by way of capital investment in Pakistan’s future. But if we wanted to change Pakistan, Holbrooke thought, we had to think even bigger, in terms of a Marshall Plan, Nasr recalls.
After a journalist asked him whether the $5 billion in aid was too much for Pakistan, Holbrooke answered, “Pakistan needs $50 billion, not $5 billion.”
For the White House the idea meant a fight with Congress and spending political capital to convince the American people, Nasr argues.
“Above all else, it required an audacious foreign-policy gambit for which the Obama administration was simply not ready,” he claims.
Nasr also points out in the book that in reality the United States was spending much more on Afghanistan that it devoted to Pakistan.
“For every dollar we gave Pakistan in aid, we gave $20 to Afghanistan. That money did not go very far; it was like pouring water into sand. Even General Petraeus understood this. I recall him saying at a Pakistan meeting: “You get what you pay for. We have not paid much for much of anything in Pakistan.” In the end, Nasr says the U.S. settled for far more modest assistance.
The 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation earmarked $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over five years, the first long-term civilian aid package.
“It was no Marshall Plan,” Nasr remarks. Holbrooke also believed the U.S. needed more aggressive diplomacy.
“America had to talk to Pakistan frequently and not just about security issues that concerned the United States, but also about economic and social issues the Pakistanis cared about. So Holbrooke convinced Clinton that America had to offer a strategic partnership to Pakistan, built around a formal ‘strategic dialogue’ the kind of forum that America holds with a number of countries, including China and India,” he argues.
Nasr, who is the dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, writes that the US National Security Council at that time “wanted to do the State Department’s job but was not up to the task. It was no surprise that our AfPak policy took one step forward and two steps back.” He says despite efforts by Hillary Clinton, the US foreign policy was shaped by the security institutions who had a “predictably narrow and terrorism-focused” approach.
A spokesperson described the relations between the State Department and the White House as excellent, when the issue was raised in the light of the book at the daily briefing. The spokesperson also defended progress made in Afghanistan.
“We have an excellent working relationship with our White House and interagency colleagues and let me just tell you a little bit about where we are in Afghanistan, because some of the thrust of the book is talking about policy development on Afghanistan.
” We’ve increased the capacity of Afghan security forces to fight insurgents, transitioning
Afghan security lead transitioning to an Afghan security lead, building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan,” acting deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell told journalists.
“We now have Afghan forces leading nearly 90 percent of operations across the country. We’ve signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement. We’re working on a new negotiating a new bilateral security agreement,” he added.
“We’re working on preparations for a free, inclusive, and transparent election in 2014. So we really stand behind the record of the progress we’ve made in Afghanistan, but beyond that i’m not going to get into inter-agency discussions,” he said.
Ventrell said the State Department regularly gives its input on foreign policy issues but added he would not characterize some sort of historical discussion about what happened in years past.