Empowering Leaders Key To Countries Advancing

The Obama administration is planning to send more diplomats and civilian aid workers to Afghanistan, and it is working out a strategy to spend billions of dollars for development projects across the border in Pakistan. In both countries, U.S. officials will have challenges working with the local leaders while trying to strengthen their countries.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Insurgent groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have caused trouble for the U.S. But then again, so have America's allies. The presidents of both nations are accused of running weak and corrupt administrations.

INSKEEP: That raises doubts about whether the U.S. can strengthen either country. So in this part of the program we'll ask how the U.S. works with or works around governments it doesn't trust.

MONTAGNE: In a moment, we'll meet an analyst just back from Afghanistan. We start with NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Just as the military has doctrine to deal with various scenarios, experts at the U.S. Institute of Peace have written some guiding principles for civilians trying to help stabilize or rebuild countries. A lead author, Beth Cole, says having good partners is key.

Ms. BETH COLE (U.S. Institute of Peace): If the people do not view their own government as legitimate, if the countries surrounding do not view that government as legitimate and if our mission is linked to legitimacy of that government, then you're never going to get peace and stability.

KELEMEN: Luckily, the U.S. doesn't have to just work with the country's president, she says. In Pakistan these days, President Asif Ali Zardari is increasingly unpopular and there are indications he could be on his way out, according to Marvin Weinbaum, who was an analyst on Pakistan and Afghanistan at the State Department and now a scholar with the Middle East Institute.

Mr. MARVIN WEINBAUM (Middle East Institute): It's been a weak government. It continues to be a corrupt government. And, in fact, the more we have tried to support him, the more it appears as if he is an instrument of our policy and further weakens his position.

KELEMEN: Weinbaum says the U.S. has to follow protocol and meet with Zardari but should not expect anything from him. As for Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, he is starting another five-year term after an election riddled with allegations of fraud. Weinbaum says the U.S. is partly to blame for what Karzai has become.

Mr. WEINBAUM: President Bush developed a personal relationship there. This gave him the sense that he was indispensable for the country. It has fed his ego but at the same time he is also very distrustful of everyone. And this has made him very much more difficult to deal with than the person we knew at the beginning.

KELEMEN: President Obama has publicly challenged Karzai to tackle corruption and U.S. officials have not hidden their distaste for the Afghan leader. But Weinbaum says unless the U.S. is planning to use Karzai as an excuse to leave Afghanistan, Washington has to tone down the rhetoric. A former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, agrees.

Mr. RONALD NEUMANN (Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): We need to reestablish that we have to succeed or fail together. Karzai is the man we are going to have to deal with.

KELEMEN: Neumann, author of the book �The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan,� says the U.S. can't fix all of its own problems, so it can't expect Karzai to reform everything quickly there.

Mr. NEUMANN: There will be a place for some pressure. But we also need to concentrate on what is most important and feasible. Karzai has some issues that are very difficult for him to touch, and we need to be differentiating between what can be changed, what has to be changed, what has to be lived with.

KELEMEN: One thing the U.S. can do, Neumann says, is support, as he put it, dynamic leaders. And Beth Cole of the U.S. Institute of Peace thinks there are plenty in Afghanistan.

Ms. COLE: There are some really great ministers. There are some really great people that work for those ministers, and really great local leaders, some really great women. And we have to figure out how to empower those agents for change.

KELEMEN: Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute thinks that particularly in Afghanistan, where Karzai wants more foreign assistance funneled through his government, the U.S. can use aid as leverage.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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