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Af-Pak: It's 'Complicated'

The Pakistani government, recipient over the next five years of some $7.5 billion in civilian aid, systematically harasses U.S. diplomats, embassy employees and aid workers.

Imagine if Israel or Egypt, the other major recipients of US aid, engaged in this sort of behavior. After all, we give our treasure to these countries with the understanding that they will do more of what we ask them to do in return for the money. We won't interfere in their domestic politics but we do expect them to be nice to people we like -- Hamid Karzai and his people -- and to be nasty to people we don't like -- the various forms of the Taliban operating in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda and their friends.

But, as Richard Holbrooke, the administration's Mr. Af-Pak, said at the Brookings Institution yesterday, the situation in the region is "complicated."

Here's his quote in full: "How are we doing in Pakistan? t's a very complicated issue and I want to start by saying it's now how "we" are doing at all. This is their country, not our country, and the question is how is Pakistan doing. I have now been to Pakistan six times I think last year at least and I'm going back next week, and all I can say is that we knew from the beginning that what happened in Pakistan was critically important to the region and we approached Pakistan with great respect for its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and the enormous complexities of what it faces economically, socially, politically and strategically on both its major borders."

That was about as close as Holbrooke got to making any news --something his handlers must be greeting with a large sigh of relief. But the fact that Holbrooke, who is famous for having a sharp tongue and pushing very hard for what he wants, said virtually nothing newsworthy yesterday should itself be newsworthy. He has appeared in public fairly rarely of late, a symptom of just how tough is the situation in that bloody and complex region.

Pakistani Army and political types protested the Kerry-Lugar bill when it passed, saying it infringed on Pakistan's precious sovereignty. How a country that has never controlled about one quarter of its landmass -- let alone its borders -- can claim to be sovereign is beyond my ability to reason. But Pakistan does have a rump state extending from the Durand Line south to its border with India within which they have managed to make and test nuclear weapons, so we must give them some credit and make the appropriate noises if we want them to do much to help with Afghanistan and Al Qaeda.

But one of the crucial tools t-- the US Agency for International Development -- to help Pakistan remains in disarray, a crippled rump of what it once was. AID just got its first Obama administration director yesterday, a 36-year old Indian-American named Rajiv Shah. As Holbrooke ruefully noted yesterday, AID today has a grand total of four engineers in its employ, not much to help with the enormous number of infrastructure projects planned for Afghanistan and Pakistan, let alone the rest of the world.

The Obama administration made much of the importance of rebuilding AID when it released its first Af-Pak strategy. Adm. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and other senior military officials have even indicated they would be willing to cede some of their budget to rebuild an expeditionary AID. But virtually nothing has bee done to achieve this. Perhaps Mr. Shah, whose Indian heritage will either help or hurt when he deals with Pakistan, will be the spark that begins the process of taking AID out from under the State Department's wing and rebuilding what was once one of America's proudest and most effective foreign policy tools.

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