In an interview at RFE/RL's broadcast headquarters in Prague on December 6, Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, California) said he thinks U.S. policies on Afghanistan and Pakistan have been misguided. He said the United States has been fooled into supporting military forces in Pakistan that only claim to be fighting radicalism -- but are actually allied with radical Islamists.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has depended in the past on conservative clerics for domestic political support in parts of Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province close to Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. But he also depends on the United States for military and financial support in the counterterrorism effort.
Rohrabacher, a ranking member of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on International Relations, has experience on Afghanistan dating to the Cold War.
In late 1988 and early 1989, before he was elected for the first time as a lawmaker, Rohrabacher hiked from Pakistan into Afghanistan with a group of mujahedin fighters who were battling Soviet forces. Those mujahedin fighters actually engaged Soviet troops in combat near the city of Jalalabad during the two months Rohrabacher was with them.
Rohrabacher -- who had been a speechwriter for U.S. President Ronald Reagan before his journey in Afghanistan -- now says he thinks Washington made a mistake during the 1980s by allowing Pakistan to decide which Afghan mujahedin fighters would receive U.S. aid money.
"I would prefer the money to have gone to our friends in Afghanistan directly," Rohrabacher told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "Even during the war against the Soviets and our efforts to try to help the Afghan people drive the Soviet troops out, much of our aid was just handed to the Pakistanis who distributed it to who they saw fit. And the Pakistanis, through the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence agency], actually provided money to the worst-possible crazy people -- on both sides of the border, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
"People like [the renegade Afghan warlord] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar should not have been receiving the aid from the United States," Rohrabacher said. "There were more positive people there who were less crazy and less bloodthirsty than Hekmatyar and some of the others. And so others were short-changed. And the Pakistanis delivered the lion's share of this to radicals who even hated democracy in the West. So I've been upset with our policies toward Pakistan."
Pakistan's 'Negative' Influence
Rohrabacher said that instead of promoting a more moderate Muslim society, Pakistan has been a "negative force" on stability along its border with Afghanistan.
President Musharraf's cooperation with the United States in the hunt for Al-Qaeda has angered conservative Islamists in Pakistan's border regions. The deployment of central government troops in the semi-autonomous tribal regions has fueled further tension between Musharraf and conservative Islamists.
Rohrabacher said he does not think the domestic political crisis in Pakistan will have any positive impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. "The only thing that would have a positive impact on the Afghan side would be if Musharraf just disappeared," Rohrabacher said. "Whether or not Musharraf is in a uniform is irrelevant. So what if he is not in a uniform and is wearing a suit? He's still giving orders to the people. And all along, it's been the Pakistan military that has been eating up resources in Pakistan that should have gone to pay for the education of their children.
"Pakistan's children, their education and their health care, is abysmal," Rohrabacher said. "And yet they are spending all of these billions of dollars on their military. Perhaps if they had built up a more educated and healthier population in Pakistan, the radicalism that now is emerging would not have people who would be turning in that direction. So Musharraf, I think, and the military people he represents have failed over the years."
Rohrbacher said Washington has made mistakes regarding Afghanistan since September 2001.
"What went wrong was that the United States drifted away from its original strategy in Afghanistan, perhaps, because there was too much focus on Iraq," he said in the interview on December 1. "We spent money in Iraq that should have gone toward rebuilding Afghanistan. Had we rebuilt the infrastructure so that ordinary people could earn a living without having to grow [illegal opium] poppies, it would have really gone a long way toward creating the positive situation for ordinary people which was our goal. But we spent those resources in Iraq instead. That was sad.
He cited "some mistakes in not building a strong Afghan army" and noted that ethnic factors have complicated developments.
"We know that half of the Pashtuns, at least, are in Pakistan, and I believe it has not been a positive role that Pakistan has played," Rohrbacher said. "I see the turmoil among Pashtuns as being a product, frankly, of the meddling by the ISI -- the Pakistani intelligence -- and by Pakistan. Had the Pashtuns been left alone and not been manipulated by Pakistan and outside forces, then I think that things could have been better [in Afghanistan]."
Rohrabacher said that Afghans must, first and foremost, develop their security forces so that Kabul is able to defend its own interests instead of depending on the United States and NATO for help on security. If that happens, Rohrabacher said, foreign troops could start to withdraw from Afghanistan and additional aid could be used to help build the economy instead of supporting a foreign military presence.
Christa Meindersma, an international lawyer who specializes in peace-talk issues from The Hague Institute of Strategic Studies, told a recent London conference of military and civilian experts on Afghanistan's future that she thinks the country is "at a tipping point" that the international community can influence. "Either Afghanistan will move towards stabilization and some kind of a development of sustainable peace, or we may lose it again to Islamic extremism," Meindersma said.
Meindersma was careful to criticize what she called an insufficient provision of aid and slow pace of reconstruction by coalition countries. She also complained of government corruption and a lack of military coordination.
(Interview conducted by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan deputy director Hasheem Mohmand)