New U.S. Afghanistan-Pakistan Representative Is Head Firefighter AND Head Gardener

February 18, 2011
This is a joint post with Wren Elhai and Molly Kinder.Marc Grossman, a retired Ambassador and former Undersecretary of State, has courageously agreed to take up what the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel has called “the worst job in the world”—Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Grossman will be asked to fill the massive shoes of the late Richard Holbrooke, the public face of the Obama administration’s civilian strategy in those two critically important countries.In our work on Pakistan over the last year, we saw Holbrooke carve out a clear legacy on development issues. He pushed hard for the United States to move towards working more with Pakistani government institutions and local NGOs. He stressed the importance of policy diplomacy, launching a Strategic Dialogue process that fostered conversations around everything from energy pricing to governance in Pakistan’s education sector. He drove the focus on showing the Pakistani people tangible evidence of what U.S. economic aid was accomplishing.Now, along with the rest of his daunting portfolio, Grossman will be the point person on these issues. We wish him the best of luck, and will certainly do what we can to help him succeed – on the development challenge as well as the security challenge. (To start with, we’d suggest that Ambassador Grossman read our series of open letters sent to Ambassador Holbrooke last year).Here, Ambassador Grossman, we offer some tips to help you hit the ground running.
  • Though the demands on your time will be great, find a way to carve out space to think about development in Pakistan independently from other issues. Pakistan’s long-term economic challenges are vastly different from those of Afghanistan, and are only uneasily wedded to a short-term stability agenda. But in the broader “AfPak” space, we’ve observed that Afghanistan tends to absorb about 90% of time and attention. Of the 10% that’s left for Pakistan, perhaps 80% is spent on issues of security, leaving a tiny sliver for the critical long-term development mission. As soon as you’re able, we suggest you host a meeting limited to discussing development issues in Pakistan (and if you’d like suggestions of whom to invite from outside the USG, we have a good list). Even better, make such meetings (rotating among the various issues you are responsible for) a regular part of your schedule—a la the Pentagon’s weekly Federation Forum, an hour long teleconference that facilitates communication among the various arms of the U.S. security apparatus in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Washington.
  • Do your utmost to keep long-term development part of discussions in Pakistan and Washington. Senator Richard Lugar, even as he eloquently champions the United States’ long-term interests in Pakistan, acknowledges that, in the United States and in Pakistan “The conversations really don’t get to [the] Kerry-Lugar-Berman [development assistance package], they really deal with much more existential problems right now. ” Lugar reassures us, “In due course we will get there.” To get there, you will have to make a conscious effort to keep the latest emergency from pushing the five to 10 year challenge represented by Kerry-Lugar-Berman out of your mind.
  • What would that effort entail? When you travel to Islamabad or host your Pakistani partners here in Washington, reserve time for discussions of economic issues—even when some might think there are more important things to talk about. And make it clear to those on your remarkably talented team who deal with economic issues that you expect them to vigorously represent a development perspective in discussions of U.S. policy—and listen carefully to what they have to say. (In handling the ongoing Raymond Davis fiasco, they could have emphasized, for instance the critical importance of not using development aid as a bargaining chip, a tactic that undermines the credibility of what is supposed to be the symbol of America’s commitment to a relationship that goes beyond short-term security.) If it helps to assign a single senior staffer responsibility for the overall success of the Pakistan development strategy, consider doing so.
Pakistan has a population of 180 million people—growing fast—and a significant nuclear arsenal. Its long-term stability and prosperity is of vital importance to the billion plus people who live on the Indian subcontinent and to the United States. (Arguably more so, in relative terms, than that of Afghanistan, despite the imbalance in resources currently deployed in the two countries). So ultimately, our message is that Ambassador Grossman’s job will be, yes, to put out the many fires in two countries in constant crisis, but also to have a gardener’s long-term outlook, to plant seeds that will sprout and grow over many years. His ability to play both of these intertwined—but sometimes conflicting—roles will form his legacy years and decades down the road.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.