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Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel '75 forecasted a bleak outlook for the political situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Watson Institute's Joukowsky Forum, which was packed to capacity Monday night.

Currently a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, Riedel was an influential White House adviser in Middle Eastern affairs until his retirement from government in 2006. Though he is briefly resuming his role as adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the request of Pres. Barack Obama, Riedel addressed the audience as an independent speaker.

Riedel focused his talk on terrorism and foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, emphasizing al-Qaida's presence in the region.

"President Obama has inherited a disaster from his predecessor," Riedel said, "and faces the most difficult decision, I think, of his administration" — namely, how to deal with the war in Afghanistan and the possible failure of Pakistan to survive its political instability.

The stabilization of both Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the White House's main agenda, Riedel said.

The course of action Riedel recommends for the U.S. is necessarily "resource intensive," he said. Deploying one soldier to Afghanistan for a year costs about $1 million, he added. The strategy also involves tripling economic aid to Pakistan, which would make it the largest U.S. economic assistance program in the world.

If this strategy proves to be effective, the U.S. will be able to work with a more stable region and a weaker al-Qaida 20 months from now, Riedel said, and Afghanistan's government will be strong enough to deal with the Taliban effectively. If the strategy fails, "the Taliban will take over southern and eastern Afghanistan," he said, and the ripple effect throughout the region will be disastrous.

Riedel painted a pessimistic picture of the current state of the Afghan war. "Eight years after the fall of Kabul," he said, NATO "is losing the war." The rate of bombings in the country has skyrocketed since 2002, he said, and the Taliban have direct command over one-third of Afghan territory.

As a result of its "disastrous" elections, Riedel added, the country has a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of both the Afghan people and the world at large. "Karzai and his associates cheated massively," he said, and the UN did nothing about it.

But Riedel also said the Taliban's influence over Afghanistan's people is somewhat limited. "The Taliban aspires to be an Islamist jihadist organization," he said, but is in fact an organization that seeks to impose Pashtun customs. "There are a majority of Afghans that, by definition, reject it," he said.

The situation in Pakistan, which Riedel called "the most dangerous country in the world today," is even more complicated, he said. As the country struggles to transition from a military dictatorship to democracy, "Pakistan is undergoing the most serious violence in its history," he said.

Riedel also addressed Pakistan's relationship with the terrorist organizations active on its borders, claiming that the country is hostile toward some groups while on friendly terms with others, like the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan is placing the U.S. in a vulnerable position internationally, Riedel said. Eighty percent of NATO troops rely on supplies that are shipped in through Pakistani ports, he added.

Riedel wrapped up his lecture by looking to the future: Obama's speech on the war in Afghanistan Tuesday night. The president has to be sure that his administration fully supports the war, he said, because a half-hearted effort would be insufficient.

"He has to convince you and me that he has totally bought into this," Riedel said.


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