Afghanistan's Future Depends on Pakistan
Fred Kaplan | Slate | May 2009
The road to more
security and stability in Afghanistan runs exclusively through Pakistan. Only
if the Pakistani leadership manages to avoid the collapse of political order
and the stem the march of the Taliban out of the northwest of the country will
peace in Afghanistan have a real chance. US President Obama and his foreign
policy team have finally realized this reality. Supporting the Pakistani
government in the fight against the Taliban is incrementally becoming their
priority. However, the US and Pakistan cannot win this war alone. Only when all
relevant actors and their respective regional interests are bundled up into one
joint strategy can the conflict on the Afghan-Pakistani border region finally
The most effective way to support the governments in Islamabad and Kabul lies in meeting the basic needs of the local populations. Among them the most important is security, nutrition and clean drinking water. However, no development agency can operate freely in Afghanistan without personal security personnel. For this reason Barack Obama is seeing to it that troop numbers in Afghanistan are increased. The majority of these troops will be needed on the eastern border to fight insurgents. This battle necessitates close cooperation between US troops and local forces, which should be assisted primarily through logistical support in order to ensure that Afghan units can better guarantee the security of international aid workers. Furthermore, any form of US military presence in Pakistan would be counter-productive. Anti-American sentiment is too deep-seated within the population. In this respect only traditional methods of support remain viable: for the time being Washington can merely deliver money, weapons and handbooks on fighting insurgency and hope that these supplies will be properly utilized by the Pakistani army.
Moreover, the US should - with the support of other political heavyweights such as China, Russia and the EU - ensure that India immediately improves its relations with Pakistan. Between 80 and 90% of Pakistan's troops remain stationed on its border with India. A large portion of the Pakistani military labels India as the greatest threat to the country. Pakistan's Army must, therefore, be convinced that the much greater danger actually lurks in the interior. To this end it is necessary for China and Russia to procure some level of cooperation with Tehran. Iran has concrete interests in stabile relations within Pakistan and is carefully observing the growing power of radical Sunni groups like the Taliban. Before former President Bush had publicly named Iran in the "Axis of Evil" there had been talks between officials in Washington and counterparts in Tehran subsequent to 9/11 in which possible cooperation in the fight against the Taliban was discussed. It is essential to put all these pieces together, if the AfPak puzzle is to be solved in the foreseeable future.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "The AfPak Puzzle. The good news: Obama understands what's wrong in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bad news: He can't fix it" published here by Slate