The ongoing problems in the Middle East should be solved by easing tensions among countries rather than injecting more American and European troops, an acclaimed Pakistani reporter and author said Thursday night at the University of Montana. Ahmed Rashid gave details on the solution in a speech delivered in a packed UC Ballroom. Rashid also commented on the role the economic downturn and the presidential elections in the U.S. could play in the Middle East. Both McCain and Obama are concerned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan. In response, they both want more troops in Afghanistan, but Rashid said thats not the answer.
More troops alone wont solve this problem, he said. Its a question of troops plus what? Instead, Rashid said in the third installment of the Presidents Lecture series that there is a need for a comprehensive plan to deal with tensions and instability in the Middle East. Six countries surround Afghanistan: Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and China. These neighbors have increased their interference in Afghanistan, Rashid said, and Americans have not tried to derail the situation.
Afghanistan is seen as a separate unit not linked to other countries, he said. What is needed is a regionally based diplomatic initiative. Such an initiative would involve a dialogue between Pakistan and India about lowering their competition in Afghanistan, as well as a U.S. dialogue with Iraq, even if it were limited. Especially important, Rashid said, would be a sustained U.S. dialogue with Iran on stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of Irans long-term goals is to establish stability in the country. However, Iran fears the U.S. military will ground itself in Afghanistan and use the position to attack Iran. Along with American attempts to decrease tensions in the Middle East, Rashid said there should be a dialogue with the Taliban and a regional economic aid package. The problem of reconstruction in Afghanistan is that it cant just stop at the border, he said.
However, Rashid said several issues in the United States, including the presidential election, could delay progress in the Middle East. Theres a vacuum of U.S. leadership, he said. Its going to be four-to-five months before the next president gets his act together. The Taliban can gain major ground in both (Pakistan and Afghanistan) before the next president gets his footing. Rashid said problems in the Middle East would likely be the central focus of U.S. foreign policy in the next year and a half.
The critical situation of the U.S. economy could also deter American action. In an economic crisis, people will cut down, Rashid said. And the first thing they will cut down on is foreign aid.And though Rashid fears U.S. financial support in Afghanistan will decrease, he hopes Americans realize Afghanistans role on the global stage. Pakistan is the seventh largest country in the world and a nuclear power, he said. You cannot see this one go down the tubes.