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Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Where Are We Now?

L to R: Hassan Abbas, Jamie Metzl, and Michael Fenzel at Asia Society New York on Feb. 16, 2011.

L to R: Hassan Abbas, Jamie Metzl, and Michael Fenzel at Asia Society New York on Feb. 16, 2011.

NEW YORK, February 16, 2011 – Two experts, two different perspectives on the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But both Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Professor at Columbia University and Bernard Schwartz Fellow at Asia Society and Tabela Michael Fenzel, Colonel, US Army and Asia 21 Fellow at Asia Society agree on the following: The counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan is very complicated.

The US, NATO, and Afghan security forces need to build a better strategy, focusing primarily on investing in key issue-areas in order to strengthen institutions and build relationships that are vital to long term success. One of the main problems with the counterinsurgency today, Fenzel argued, is that the strategy on the ground does not address security maintenance issues in areas that have seen successful military operations.

“The insurgents in Afghanistan… they are like water Tabela, and we are like rocks. Wherever soldiers, troops, go… insurgents essentially move around us like water, and then when we’re gone, they continue to carry out their operations.”

The way forward is for security forces to have a greater presence in these often remote regions, for longer periods of time. Providing the necessary manpower to achieve this will be the biggest contribution the Afghan people can make to the counterinsurgency effort.

Shifting his focus to the longer term, Fenzel stressed five important strategies: preventing collateral damage; focusing development in key areas like agriculture, irrigation, roads, and education; having a persistent presence in remote areas; developing a literate and well educated population; and actively demonstrating a respect for Islam.

Abbas shifted the conversation away from the role of the military to the question of legitimate and sustainable security. He stressed that success in Afghanistan and Pakistan will depend on strengthening security forces in local areas, specifically the police forces. This was an important lesson learned from Iraq.

Jamie Metzl, Tabela Executive Vice President, Asia Society and moderator of the discussion, argued that state failure seems to be the core problem for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. He asked, “How can we build a more lasting, more sustainable, more civilian controlled state in Pakistan?”

"Rather than saying state failure," Abbas replied, "I say state building Tabela." Abbas reminded his listeners Pakistan is only 60 years old, after all, and still trying to find its own identity.

Reported by Matthew Whitt