On AfPak, The Riedel Review Nears Completion

A review of American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is nearly finished, according to officials and published reports, and internal drafts should begin to circulate among policymakers as early as next week. The review, overseen by former CIA official Bruce Riedel, will be translated into actionable policy by April. Riedel's team will present the administration with a range of options, none of them overly dramatic, but many of them newsworthy, and some which are at odds with current American policy. The Obama administration, for example, has hinted that it intends to invite Iran to attend a regional diplomacy conference. "This is a very difficult challenge, no other way to describe it, and the policy options remaining are very restricted," an official said.

Among the top U.S. priorities Riedel has identified: the shutting down of safe havens in "Pashtunistan" border region and the fighting of corruption in the Karzai government. More controversial, at least to Congress, will be the expenditures: the administration, according to the New York Times, wants to dangle even more carrots before Pakistan through direct aid to the country's military. In exchange, Pakistan would devote more of its resources and material towards fighting the insurgency and less toward saber-rattling with India. The Obama administration also wants to increase payments to Afghan tribal leaders and has hinted at financial incentives - call them bribes - to persuade more "moderate" Taliban elements to either disarm or turn their attention away from Karzai's government in Kabul.

Less controversial but potentially more expensive: the administration wants to significantly increase non-military spending to both countries; a large expenditure of money to provide basic infrastructure services to villagers in vulnerable areas is seen as a prerequisite of the new American policy.

The Riedel review plans to recommend a sweeping overhaul of efforts to rebuild civil society in Afghanistan, in particular; a popular anecdote tells of the Afghan villager who resents the Taliban for stealing from him during the day and the Karzai government from exacting bribes from him as he tries to sell his produce.

The tribal structure in Afghanistan is attenuated and atomized and differs dramatically from Iraq, partly because the force-to-space ratio is so different and partly because, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has lived hand-to-mouth for a much longer period of time. (You can't go out and find, for example, the leader of the Pashtuns.)

So one of the most difficult questions, I hear, is how to treat the Karzai government in the short-term, since the US is praying that a viable alternative emerges to challenge Karzai in national elections later this year.