Saving Afghanistan Even Means Talking to Enemies
Barnett R. Rubin & Ahmed Rashid | Foreign Affairs | November 2008
Seven years after the advent of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Taliban, al- Qaeda and various insurgents have regained strength particularly on Afghan and Pakistani soil. The fight for
security in the Middle East has spiralled downward as the Taliban have "established a new "safe haven" in Pakistan.
Serious efforts to build a transparent, secure Afghan state with an intact justice system will require long-term international engagement. However, building up operational security forces will not be enough as Afghanistan does not have the financial resources to sustain further training and equipment. Permanent foreign subsidies for maintaining a stable security force are no option, but the absence of it will have destabilizing consequences. Consequently, the US and NATO members should integrate funds for Afghanistan into their budget, helping the Afghan government to stabilize the security sector.
Sending additional foreign troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan might reduce US and NATO dependency on air strikes, but given that the region does not support a long-term US-NATO engagement, it will not solve the problem. Easing the situation in Afghanistan presupposes dealing with the Afghan-Pakistani as well as the Indian-Pakistani conflict. At the same time, Iran's interest will come into play as the Islamic Republic fears Western intentions of a "regime change." Also do "China, India and Russia have reservations about a NATO base within their spheres of influence and believe they must balance the threats from al Qaeda and the Taliban against those posed by the US and NATO."
The US must review its Pakistan policy. Putting pressure on Pakistan and demanding that its military go after insurgents will not be an effective approach. The Pakistani establishment is suspicious as it considers its influence in Afghanistan threatened by an alleged US-Indian-Afghan alliance as well as an Iranian-Russian partnership. The recognition of India as a nuclear power causes further concern within the Pakistani government. Now giving "aid to Pakistan, without any effort to address the sources of its insecurity, cannot yield a sustainable positive outcome." The international community can only guarantee security in Afghanistan if it addresses the roots of Pakistan's insecurity. In this respect the US must incentivize Pakistan to make the stabilization of Afghanistan one of its foreign policy priorities, instead of focusing on disputes with India. Creating the ground for diplomatic negotiations which aim "to build a genuine consensus on the goal of achieving Afghan stability by addressing the legitimate sources of Pakistan's concern" will be one possibility of taking pressure off of Pakistan.
A dialogue between India and Pakistan that focuses on the interests of both parties in Afghanistan cannot be ruled out. By establishing a "contact group" under the supervision of the UN Security Council, negotiations considering Afghanistan and the Kashmir dispute could be furthered. The international community will have to guarantee aid to Pakistan and commit itself to its territorial integrity. India, in return, would have to be pushed for a more transparent Afghanistan policy. However, the role of Iran should not be underestimated. The US should open a dialogue with Iran as both countries share common interests in Afghanistan, but the US will also have to guarantee that a contact group would not be used as a basis to undermine Iran.
If President-elect Obama wants to succeed in Afghanistan he should not hesitate to even involve America's opponents into diplomatic approaches. Stabilizing Afghanistan presupposes improved regional partnerships in the Middle East.
This summary was prepared by Sepideh Parsa, editorial intern at Atlantic Community, from "From Great Game to Grand Bargain" published here in Foreign Affairs, November 2008.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Morgan Sheeran: Afghanistan's Need for European Expertise
- Florian Broschk: Kickstarting a New Debate on Afghanistan
- Hussain Haqqani: Pakistan's New Commitment to the War on Terror