By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, says he returned from a May visit to Pakistan concerned that the United States may have missed its opportunity to create stability in the region. He said that because U.S. troops have been unable to help displaced Pakistani civilians, civilian loyalty is shifting to the radical Islamist groups that have infiltrated refugee camps.
Udall spoke at the “From Strategy to Implementation: Strengthening U.S.-Pakistan Relations” hearing in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.
Udall warned fellow members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pakistani Army lacks the will to fight insurgents and said America must work to “arrest deteriorating conditions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Udall and other members of the committee visited Pakistan and Afghanistan to assess the effect of President Barack Obama’s new strategy on military and civilian operations. He traveled with other members of the committee, which is headed by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.
Obama’s new strategy entails placing troops in the southeast section of Afghanistan to fight the Taliban while also partnering with Afghan forces to fight insurgents along the Pakistani border in the north. America is shifting its emphasis to training Afghan security forces in preparation for U.S. withdrawal.
“Our goal is to achieve security and stability in the region,” Udall said. “We can’t allow [Afghan] extremists to destabilize this nuclear-armed state [Pakistan] with the world’s second largest Muslim population. Many experts [say] the possibility that Islamic radicals could undermine the Pakistani state has become all too real.”
Udall said 2.5 million refugees have left their homes in Pakistan to flee the fighting and that Islamist groups are infiltrating their camps. Pakistani authorities have blocked U.S. aid, saying anti-American sentiment threatens the safety of American troops and officials.
“We are losing despite contributing more than any other country to the U.N. effort,” Udall told the committee members.
Udall said Pakistani Army officials consider the United States to be part of the problem.
He noted that a recent poll of Pakistanis suggests that since the start of the Obama administration, 90 percent have come to believe that the United States is working to weaken the Islamic world.
Udall said that America’s unpopularity in Pakistan undermines its ability to bring peace to the region, leaving few options for establishing stability and security.
Udall had two suggestions for shoring up U.S.-Pakistan relations.
First, the United States needs to demonstrate its interest in developing a long-term strategy for increasing Pakistan’s security, going beyond fighting a common enemy to beefing up the police force and developing a sustainable economy.
Udall said an example of that effort is the Kerry-Lugar bill, which funds military projects that directly benefit Pakistanis.
For example, America could provide military assistance to ensure that Pakistan’s military and police have suitable training and equipment.
“And we should encourage India-Pakistan rapprochement, both to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region as well as to help Pakistan focus on real and imminent threats,” Udall said.
He concluded by noting that Pakistan is less concerned about its border with India than it is with the growing insurgency — a development he viewed as positive.
“There is greater recognition now that extremism poses an existential threat to Pakistan itself, not just to its ungoverned areas, and a sense that the civilian government must assert itself in this perilous environment,” Udall said. “Pakistan’s recent military efforts are an indication of this new commitment.”
Udall assessed the new administration’s strategy in the region by saying, “I believe the president’s combined civil military strategy is the best hope to turn the tide in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But we should not overestimate our abilities to rebuild broken states and transform entire regions of the world.”