When Amb. James Dobbins arrives at the ground-floor offices of the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan he will find a depleted staff, a moribund peace process and a mandate riddled with colossal diplomatic challenges. Secretary of State John Kerry called today's state of affairs a "pivotal moment" for the two nations. But it is also a critical moment for U.S. involvement in ending the conflict President Barack Obama once called the war "that we have to win" and now wants only to "responsibly" wind down.
Dobbins is a veteran of uphill assignments. He oversaw the return of the American flag over a newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001. In addition to Afghanistan, he has served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia. Not exactly a list of luxe diplomatic posts.
As Dobbins prepares to assume his post on 23rd St, a series of open questions await his attention. Three of the biggest are below.
1) Troops: Just how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? That question remains unanswered as the United States continues to negotiate an agreement with Afghanistan on the shape of the U.S. military presence post-2014. Gen. James Mattis, who most recently served as the commander of U.S. Central Command, is on the record pushing for more than 13,000 troops. Most numbers out of the Pentagon and the White House come in at less than that. The State Department's Robert Blake noted recently that "we are still in the process of thinking through what our final military presence will be in Afghanistan after the end of the transition at the end of 2014." Exactly when that will be and what shape it will take remains to be seen.
Also an open question: how many Afghan troops will be needed? And how many will be funded? Those two numbers may well end up being different. And the latter should be known sooner rather than later.
2) Peace process: Right now there is not one of substance to speak of. What shape might one take? The window for action is rapidly closing as frustration between Pakistan and Afghanistan remains very much alive, with Afghanistan arguing that Pakistan looks favorably on Afghan instability. Will Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to agree on conditions for talks? And what role will the Americans take? Sec. Kerry met last month in Belgium with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and vowed to "under-promise but deliver" as the sides "continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track." What, if anything, the dialed-down dialog yields will be watched carefully as nearly all sides agree that a diplomatic solution - one in which human rights are not made the price of peace - is the lone shot at a lasting and durable peace.
3) Transition: whither and at what pace will security, political and economic transitions continue? So far, the economic transition has been bolstered by GDP numbers that have been better than expected. As the World Bank noted, "rapid economic growth" has been accompanied by "relatively low inflation." But the government is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign coffers for its funding -- civilian aid alone is "estimated at more than US$6 billion a year, or nearly 40 percent of GDP" - and as those dollars dry up, the questions of stability and security arise immediately. A recent IMF report mentioned by the New York Times notes that tax evasion, corruption and declining growth all mean that the government will find it tough to pay even half of its bills this year. Stories of graft and CIA-filled slush funds do not lead to greater confidence in the Afghan government from either the American public paying for it or the Afghan people who will pay the price of chaos and a political power vacuum.
These are only the most pressing of a rash of questions sure to occupy Amb. Dobbins on Day One. Fortunately for both Sec. Kerry and Amb. Dobbins, the SRAP position does not require Senate confirmation, so they can get down to work quickly - as they must. The U.S. is speeding toward the end of the NATO combat mission, and both diplomats will soon be hard-pressed to find answers.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images
During a recent trip to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to visit Pakistan out of respect for the country's ongoing electoral processes. He made the right choice.
The United States has repeatedly found itself in the middle of Pakistan's domestic politics, a problem partially of its own making. In 2006, the United States tried to broker a power-sharing deal between exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and then-President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who unceremoniously took power in a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999, desperately needed domestic and international legitimization of his presidency. Bhutto - the popular scion of a political family from Sindh - could offer the domestic portion of that by participating in national elections that would be sure to put her back into office as Prime Minister. An increasingly unpopular Musharraf could stay on as president.
While U.S. mediation was warranted to some extent on account of the high stakes involved in the "global war on terror," the result was disastrous. After months of secretive meetings with a coterie of high-level American officials and informal representatives, Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in Dubai only to be assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban ten weeks later. Ever since, the United States has in some way been blamed for her death and the circumstances following it, most notably the election of Bhutto's widow, Asif Ali Zardari, as President of Pakistan.
If Secretary Kerry had visited Pakistan, he would have inevitably signaled de facto American support for the incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and co-chairman Zardari, who remains President until September. Zardari and the PPP would have relished such attention given their dismal electoral chances, but the United States did not take the bait.
Maneuvers to elicit U.S. support for legitimacy within Pakistan are not new tactics for Pakistani politicians. Since his self-initiated exile in 2008, Musharraf has diligently sought U.S. government support to anoint his return to Pakistani politics. After all, if the United States did this for Bhutto in 2006, then why not for him - the secular, U.S.-leaning, cosmopolitan general turned statesman who enjoys an occasional scotch?
Musharraf should get credit for trying. He lobbied hard within U.S. political circles, with his Philadelphia-based office regularly releasing photographs and announcements of his meetings with members of Congress. In a slightly disingenuous move in 2011, his office even released a photograph of Musharraf with Vice President Joe Biden at a football game, suggesting the meeting was planned. The Vice President's office quickly covered its bases by clarifying that it was a chance encounter with "no substantive conversation."
In reality, Musharraf tried many times to get meetings at the State Department and White House but failed. Don't look for the United States to change track now that Musharraf is back in Pakistan. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Rick Olson recently said of his return: "I don't see this as a terribly large or significant event...he doesn't have a great deal of support." The White House later chimed in to say Musharraf's return was "an internal matter." And recall that just the week before, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in a morning briefing that the United States "has no favorites among Pakistani politicians and we are looking forward to work with whoever is elected on May 11." An unnamed senior State Department official was even blunter, saying the United States "did not want to lead anyone to conclude anything about where" U.S. interests may lie."
It is now clearer than ever before that the United States does not want to get involved in Pakistan's domestic politics. Letting political affairs run their course is the best thing the United States - or any other country, individual or institution - can do. Given negative Pakistani public and government perceptions of the United States, it is extremely unlikely that the United States could effectively achieve its objectives if it chose to get more involved.
No doubt America will find another way to sustain stable and friendly relations with the Pakistani government - too much is at stake. Until the end of 2014, the United States will remain heavily dependent on the Pakistani military's cooperation in keeping NATO supply routes from Afghanistan through Pakistan open. Longer term challenges of Pakistan-based Al Qaeda members and affiliates, as well as Pakistan's nuclear program, demand the United States has a more normalized relationship with Islamabad. Time will tell if the United States can truly go cold turkey on getting involved in Pakistani politics to advance its own interests.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)
Roderic Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (London: Profile Books, 2011)
Artemy M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
The idea that history offers lessons for the present is uncontroversial and common to the point of cliché. Yet, American foreign policy decisions often proceed with barely a look to the past. And so we were informed in 2009 by then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, likely to return as a fixture in future Democratic administrations, "[T]here's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan" and the U.S.-led campaign to enable the Afghan people to "reclaim their country." Is that so?
In her award-winning book about the Vietnam War, Fire in the Lake, Frances FitzGerald states:
Americans ignore history, for them everything has always seemed new under the sun....Americans see history as a straight line and themselves standing at the cutting edge of it as representatives for all mankind. They believe in the future as if it were a religion; they believe that there is nothing they cannot accomplish, that solutions wait somewhere for all problems like brides.
Just as history's lessons were dismissed as advisers begat brigades in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the Soviet experience in Afghanistan has been discarded as irrelevant to our own war by American policymakers, commanders, and commentators. This has left us, in the words of Lord Butler of Brockwell, "like a driver who commits to some manoeuvre in the road without looking into the rear mirror." Indeed, American leaders believe we are on a different road entirely. While there are significant differences between the two interventions, the road winds through the same mountains.
Two books released as the latest incarnation of foreign intervention winds down - one by Rodric Braithwaite and the other by Artemy Kalinovsky - tell the troubled tale of the Soviet intervention and withdrawal. In doing so, they shatter mischaracterizations that prevent the West from looking to this decade as a source of lessons. The only major flaws of these books, Afgantsy and The Long Goodbye, is that they were published years too late to serve as rejoinders to Undersecretary Flournoy and others who came before her who insisted that Afghanistan, in the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, stood "at the dawn of a new day."
Yet, while Braithwaite and especially Kalinovksy draw on previously unpublished Soviet records and interviews, they were not the first to strike at the myths of the Soviet intervention rooted in the Cold War. Almost twenty years ago, Diego Cordovez, the U.N.'s point man on Afghanistan in the 1980s, and journalist Selig S. Harrison produced the insightful Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. These three books demand to be read and revisited in combination. They very much complement each other. Braithwaite's Afgantsy provides a vivid, novelistic account of the war in its entirety. Kalinovsky's more scholarly text provides the oft-missing Soviet perspective based on Politburo records, now housed at the Wilson Center thanks to Kalinovsky himself. Cordovez and Harrison give us the ultimate insider's account, bringing readers along for the ride as the U.N. emissary shuttles back and forth between Moscow, Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad, furiously working to get deadly foes to sit down at a table and talk.
The common Western narrative holds that once Soviet forces crossed their southern border into Afghanistan in December 1979, they were modern-day Cossacks waging a war of unmitigated brutality. With U.S. support, the noble mujahideen prevailed. This narrative, rooted in the hostile spirit of the Cold War, tells us we have nothing to learn from the Soviets in Afghanistan because our mission is so different in its purpose, aims and methods. Our very nature is so different that comparisons are useless. Or so we tell ourselves, and in doing so ignore the nuances of history.
The Soviets also had trouble reconciling their mission with Afghan history. In one memorable exchange captured by Kalinovsky, Soviet Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Kapista cited the British experience in Afghanistan in the 19th Century. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko responded, "Do you mean to compare our internationalist troops with imperialist troops?" Kapitsa retorted, "No, our troops are different - but the mountains are the same!"
There are many aspects of the Soviet experience relevant to the current U.S.-led campaign, but none are more relevant to the present day than the Soviet efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and withdraw their military forces. On these aspects of the war before the war, these three books have a great deal to say, primarily by way of three key lessons: Even a "reconciliation" that promises substantial government concessions may not succeed. Timing is everything. Pakistan is not to be trusted.
By the time Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power in 1985, the view that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was a quagmire was commonly held in the Politburo and in the military. Frustration with Afghan partners - particularly General Secretary Babrak Karmal - was at an all-time high, leading to his replacement with Mohammad Najibullah in 1986. Gorbachev came to accept that the Soviets would not leave a socialist government in their wake, but he was not ready to abandon their client regime entirely. He pushed a second, internal track on Najibullah: the policy of "National Reconciliation," which was far reaching in its concessions to the mujahideen.
The reconciliation program sought to reach out to biddable elements in the armed opposition, as well as non-Communist political and religious leaders not involved in the rebellion. In doing so, they sought to strengthen the position of the Afghan armed forces. Through a re-tooled aid package, more emphasis on outreach to tribes, efforts to make Afghan officials more independent, and dialogue with insurgent commanders, the Soviets hoped to set the conditions for a durable state as they planned to withdraw. Attempts to make the Afghan government more representative, rather than dominated by the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), were key. The new policy was announced in December 1986. That same month, Gorbachev called Najibullah to Moscow and informed him that a military withdrawal from Afghanistan was now official Soviet policy. The government, with Soviet advisers over their shoulders, drew up a new constitution that established "an Islamic legal system run by an independent judiciary, greater freedom of speech, and the election of a president by a loya jirga assembly consisting of parliament and tribal and religious leaders."
While sensible, the National Reconciliation program arrived too late. All sides were too entrenched. The Khalq and Parcham factions of the PDPA were still at loggerheads. The "Peshawar Seven" and "Tehran Eight" mujahideen parties were strong and confident in the countryside and the mountains, dripping with a desire for revenge and a hatred of the Kabul-based government. The Pakistanis and the Americans doubted the Soviets and the Afghan government were serious about a negotiated settlement. And they understood that, regardless of Soviet intentions, a compromise on their parts was not necessary. One independent-minded Soviet colonel wrote in a letter: "[O]ne has to keep in mind that the counter-revolution is aware of the strategic decision of the Soviet leadership to withdraw the Soviet troops from the DRA [Democratic Republic of Afghanistan] ...The counter-revolution will not be satisfied with partial power today, knowing that tomorrow it can have it all."
Gorbachev also fumbled the timing of announcing troop withdrawals. In February 1988, against the advice of the Soviet negotiating team in Geneva, Gorbachev announced a full withdrawal would begin on May 15, assuming an agreement was reached in Geneva. He hoped that his announcement and the signing of the accords would induce the United States and Pakistan to cease arming the mujahideen. According to Harrison, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had warned Gorbachev that "a formal commitment to a specific target date would give the impression of an urgent need to withdraw." Gorbachev was wrong and Shevardnadze was right. The withdrawal timeline was one of the few cards the Soviets had left in their deck and Gorbachev gave it away. Subsequent Soviet efforts to negotiate directly with the Peshawar Seven and Tehran Eight were futile.
In response to Gorbachev's announcement, U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz demanded that the the two superpowers take a symmetrical approach to the withdrawal of military aid to their respective proxies. In other words, American aid to the mujahideen and Soviet aid to the government would be withdrawn simultaneously. Early drafts of the accords had not envisioned symmetry. Gorbachev was apoplectic, but it was too late.
Moscow had greater concerns linked to a successful withdrawal from Afghanistan - namely negotiations over American nuclear-tipped missiles in Europe. Success in these negotiations depended on improving relations with the United States. And so, on April 14, 1988, the Geneva Accords were signed. They committed the Soviets to execute a "front-loaded" withdrawal within nine months. The United States and the USSR agreed to "positive symmetry," meaning that aid continued to the mujahideen and the Afghan government alike, rather than negative symmetry, which would have withdrawn aid to both. Besides, the Soviet leadership believed that the Accords, which prohibited Pakistani interference and intervention in Afghan affairs, would mitigate the problem of aid to the mujahideen. At any rate, Gorbachev assured Najibullah that, "Even in the harshest, most difficult circumstances, even under conditions of strict control - in any situation, we will provide you with arms." Like the rest of the world, neither of them anticipated the dissolution of the Soviet Union less than four years later.
Pakistan has three interests vis-à-vis Afghanistan that endure to the present day: blunting Pashtun nationalism, preventing strategic encirclement by India, and maintaining strategic depth against India. Support for violent Islamist non-state actors, from the Taliban of the present to the Peshawar Seven of the 1980s, has allowed them to accomplish all three. With Pakistan under the leadership of pro-Islamist Zia ul Haq, the idea of a socialist state and Soviet forces on Pakistan's border was intolerable.
As early as 1980, the Central Committee of the Politburo in Moscow understood Pakistan was the key, and envisioned, according to Politburo records, "a complex of bilateral agreements between Afghanistan and its neighbors, above all Pakistan, and systems of corresponding guarantees from the USSR, USA." As such, the USSR and the Republic of Afghanistan signed the Geneva Accords, which committed Afghanistan and Pakistan to mutual relations, non-interference and non-intervention as well as to "interrelationships for the settlement of the situation." The Geneva Accords committed Pakistan to cease support for the mujahideen. As Cordovez explains, the whole negotiations process was premised on "international disengagement" that would "allow the Afghans themselves to sort out their differences."
Anyone hoping for Pakistani "disengagement" was disappointed. According to Shultz, when President Reagan asked Zia how he would counter Soviet accusations that aid to the mujahideen continued, Zia responded, "We will deny that there is any aid going through our territory. After all, that's what we have been doing for eight years." The UN monitoring mission - the key enforcement mechanism of the Accords - was an embarrassing failure. Before the ink on the Accords was dry, the Soviets and Afghan government began lodging legitimate complaints against Pakistani violations of the agreements. At one point, President Zia told the Soviet ambassador to Kabul that he would support a coalition that was divided in three between the former PDPA, "moderates," and the mujahideen. We do not know if he was serious, however, because the offer ended with the Pakistani leader's own life when his plane crashed later that summer. What we do know is that Pakistan has always sought to be kingmaker in Afghanistan, regardless of what outside powers do.
In the face of these treaty violations, the Soviet leadership hinted they might keep their military forces in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal deadline if the accords were not strictly adhered to. The bluff failed. The Soviets continued to withdraw their forces. The last of them crossed back into the Soviet Union on February 15, 1989.
The Nuances of History
History has not repeated itself in Afghanistan, but it has rhymed. There are important differences between the Soviet and U.S.-led campaigns that are worth keeping in mind. Brutal Soviet tactics, particularly early in the war, targeted entire communities. This had a direct effect on how the international community, Pakistan, and the mujahideen responded, particularly in terms of their recalcitrance to negotiate in good faith. The Soviet campaign was more deadly and indiscriminant in its violence, resulting in the deaths of up to a million Afghans - about 9% of the Afghan population at the time (admittedly, this figure is debatable). By the time of the Soviet withdrawal, there were millions of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Since the U.S.-led intervention began in 2001, most of these refugees have returned.
The scholar Louis Dupree described the Soviet strategy as "migratory genocide." In other words, the Soviets sought, in some provinces, to depopulate the countryside, the powerbase of the rebels. Joseph Collins, a longtime observer of Afghanistan, argued that for the Soviets, "[t]here was no talk about protecting the population; Soviet operations were all about protecting the regime and furthering Soviet control." Later in the war, the Soviets became obsessed with connecting the government and the population - but still, the Soviet campaign stands in contrast to that waged by ISAF, which has focused on controlling key rural areas and protecting rural communities. There has been operational success on this front. While there is reason to doubt these gains will endure, in this respect, the West has learned from the Soviet experience. Now, it is time for the West, and America in particular, to learn from how they negotiated their withdrawal so as not to repeat their mistakes.Ryan Evans is a PhD Candidate at the King's College London War Studies Department. His report, "Talking to the Taliban" - co-written with John Bew, Martyn Frampton, Peter Neumann, and Marisa Porges - will be released this month.
DANIEL JANIN/AFP/Getty Images
As Americans try to make sense of the latest salvo of rhetoric coming out of Kabul, Afghans are also perturbed by confusion engulfing their country's prospects at a time when both sides are expected to soberly focus on immediate challenges, maintaining Afghanistan's stability, and making sure that America's longest war is not perceived as a defeat when the mission ends in 2014.
Instead, all sides are witnessing a gradual erosion of bilateral trust that can be traced back at least as far as the controversial 2009 Afghan presidential elections. President Hamid Karzai has alleged that Western powers were trying to undermine his candidacy, while Afghan politicians accused his campaign and each other of fraud.
Evolving perceptions of U.S. and Afghan intentions since then continue to spark both nations' suspicions, raise questions about respective motivations, increase casualty counts on all sides, and test the strategic partnership that is essential to a successful transition process encompassing the security, political and economic sectors.
Such conditions can become untenable and strengthen the agenda pursued by most Taliban and their regional extremist support network.
The latest controversy was sparked a few hours after twin suicide attacks in Kabul and Khost killed scores of civilians last week. During a speech on International Women's Day, President Karzai accused the United States and the Taliban of unintended collusion and of holding back-channel talks. Without offering further details, he suggested to the Taliban that their attacks will create a sense of insecurity that could end up prolonging the U.S./NATO engagement, and criticized the United States for holding secret talks with the insurgent group that do not involve him.
In a convoluted way, the Afghan president is trying to convince elements of the "patriotic Taliban" to step up and put a stop to the carnage that is hurting ordinary Afghans. It is also not clear what evidence exists that continued Taliban atrocities are what the U.S. and NATO governments desire in order to have an excuse to prolong their presence in Afghanistan. Karzai has failed to explain how such a scenario aligns with the ongoing talks his government is carrying out with the U.S. and others on the post-2014 presence of troops to fight terrorism and train and support Afghan forces.
In his comments, Karzai also claimed that Americans and other countries are eyeing different elements of Afghanistan's mineral reserves, which he said would be negotiated taking Afghan interests into account.
There may be an element of truth to the claims, but both the Taliban and U.S. officials denied the accusation and offered strikingly opposite commentary. Many Afghan pundits, including opposition political parties, were highly critical of the tirade, describing it as far-fetched and provocative.
A week later, in an interview broadcast in Kabul on Thursday, Karzai offered a more positive assessment of his relations with the United States, and said that his comments were not meant to be critical, but corrective.
Whether Karzai's rant was purposefully timed during the top Pentagon official's visit or not, Chuck Hagel's first visit as Secretary of Defense did not go as planned. He was hoping to resolve two outstanding issues: one regarding the transfer of prisoners to Afghan custody, and the other Karzai's recent demand that Special Operations forces be withdrawn from Wardak Province. Although discussions are ongoing, neither issue was resolved during the conversations that took place hours after Karzai's diatribe.
Some commentators floated the notion that Karzai was getting back at Hagel because of sharp comments that were attributed to the then-Senator in 2003 during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which President Karzai was grilled by U.S. lawmakers. Heads of state are not usually asked to testify before Congress, and the Afghan ambassador at the time was fired for erroneously scheduling the event, though Karzai's staff had previously approved the president's appearance before the Committee.
The issue that seems to have rattled Karzai the most, however, is linked to his suspicion that the U.S. government is undermining his lead on the peace process by holding secret talks with Taliban representatives.
Karzai is not entirely incorrect when he says that secret contacts are underway between U.S. intermediaries and high-flying Taliban representatives who are now "sipping coffee" with Westerners in the Gulf and Europe. However, he is wrong to assume that these contacts amount to negotiations on the future of the country. The American interlocutors are mostly go-betweens who advocate dialogue and may not have the full blessing of the American government.
The Taliban say they are interested in talking to the Americans about a prisoner exchange, which would also help boost their political credentials through interactions with the international community, whereas Washington is partly using the contacts to convince Taliban leaders to enter into talks with Kabul. With the Taliban adamant so far about not recognizing Karzai as a stakeholder, the U.S. effort should not be seen as counter-productive.
If one is to assume that the "patriotic Afghan Taliban" - as Karzai described them in a speech this week - are actually in touch with him, they are not responding in kind, preferring instead to remain anonymous, since none have dared to advocate a desire to enter into peace talks with Kabul yet. This means that the so-called reconcilable Taliban are either being restrained by their more extremist counterparts, are not in a position to engage right now, are not willing to recognize Kabul, or do not exist as at all.
On the issue of prisoner transfers from U.S. to Afghan custody, Karzai's weekend ultimatum was once again rejected, as U.S. officials expressed misgivings about dangerous individuals who they fear Afghan officials will release. Instead of discussing the merits of the process and arriving at a mutually acceptable solution, the two sides have so far stuck to their respective positions.
With regard to the demand that U.S. Special Forces vacate Wardak province after allegations of civilian mistreatment last month, Karzai's request has yet to take effect. With parts of the province under Taliban control, and Wardak serving as a strategic entry point into Kabul, American officers, local leaders and even Afghan security officials have questioned the validity of the demand. So far, neither side has offered a mutually satisfactory solution that would not jeopardize the security situation and put the capital at risk.
Following the weekend outbursts, Karzai's spokesman lamented that the President is not taken seriously when he demands that his Western allies take practical steps to address all contentious issues, especially his demand for exerting more pressure on Pakistan, seen by Kabul as backing Afghan Taliban efforts.
Regardless of their actual origin, Karzai's pointed accusations nowadays are part venting, part drama and mostly motivated by political calculus. They are undoubtedly also intended to influence the upcoming presidential elections and the legacy Karzai wants to leave behind when he steps down in 2014.
However, his excessive use of the public pulpit - instead of diplomatic and political channels - could reduce the effectiveness of his overtures. This type of in-your-face politics may not win him many converts in Afghanistan, or help realize his political aspirations.
What is less apparent to Karzai and his politically motivated cronies is the public relations impact in Western nations, as well as the strategic communications bonanza that such rhetoric provides to his domestic and regional detractors.
Although Karzai is justified in the eyes of many Afghans when he complains about civilian casualties and chastises the West for waging war in Afghan villages instead of pursuing terrorist in their hideouts in the tribal regions of Pakistan, his choice of venue, rhetoric and timing undermines the real intention.
Provocative claims not only exacerbate public confusion, but they also dampen support for the Afghan mission in troop-contributing nations where questions about further engagement already abound.
Contrary to the delusional belief within Karzai's inner-circle that the West needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the West, the country cannot afford to alienate those who have contributed to the positive changes that have taken place over the past decade, and who are committed to continue to help beyond 2014.
This is not to say that mistakes were not made over the years, that certain strategic and tactical decisions were not erroneous, or that Western policies have all been thoughtful. There is enough blame to be shared on all sides, but now is not the time to engage in finger pointing or scoring points.
At the same time, Afghan sensitivities that are known to benefit the armed opposition need to be taken into account, as all sides need to engage in more coordination and trust building, and aim for solutions to technical or legal concerns.
However, if Karzai's intention is to engage in political flirtation with America's enemies, either in the hope of becoming the peacemaker or to be remembered as the nationalist who accelerated the Western withdrawal, his plan could backfire and end up damaging his domestic political base. Many Afghans consider the core Taliban (with the exception of some who are not in a position to act) as a pariah radical group supported by hardline regional actors. By alienating his base, there is a risk that Karzai could become a weak lame-duck president earlier than expected.
What Afghan leaders need to be reminded of is that hardcore Taliban and regional detractors are the beneficiaries of fractured domestic politics and incoherent international relations. There are powerful networks in the region (and some within the country) that want to destabilize the country and damage Afghan relations with the international community. Those are detrimental for stability and the transitions Afghanistan and many others are facing over the next two years.
This delicate situation requires better management of frustration and rhetoric on both sides in order to accomplish the goal of meaningful strategic partnership.
Omar Samad is President of Silkroad Consulting. He was Afghan Ambassador to Canada (2004-2009) and France (2009-2011), and Spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). He can be reached at email@example.com.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is right to worry about perpetual war, but wrong to worry about drones killing Americans in America. His concerns about domestic drone strikes unfortunately obscured a far more pressing debate about how to manage and regulate surveillance via drones and other techniques such as wiretaps and Internet traffic monitoring.
The truth is, drones are not actually all that good at killing people, nor at bringing them to justice. The reason they are used in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia is because no better alternatives are readily available. Within the United States, the president has far more capable means at his disposal for using force. In terms of surveillance, however, drones are among the most effective tools in existence.
During his 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday, Paul proposed a resolution against the use of drones to "execute or target American citizens on American soil." The resolution is superfluous because the chief limitation on the use of drones is how well they work -- not legal, moral, ethical, or constitutional considerations.
The question is not what drones themselves are capable of, but how those capabilities compare to the alternatives available to military, intelligence, and law enforcement officials. Compared to other means the American government has at its disposal for the domestic use of force, a drone-launched missile is a crude, blunt, and ineffective instrument. It is not possible to deploy the FBI to Pakistan's tribal areas or to rural Yemen. Drones are being used in these countries because they provide a capability that is better, in the eyes of the national security apparatus, than the alternatives of inaction or bombing from manned aircraft.
The reason for "signature strikes" in Pakistan and Yemen -- where patterns of behavior are targeted instead of specific individuals -- is because of a paucity of information. It is far easier for the U.S. government to gather information inside the United States than it is in Waziristan.
Drones, will, of course, grow more technologically capable of flying for a longer time, seeing with keener sight, and aiming explosives still more precisely. But even the apotheosis of these efforts will do no more than replicate the abilities of a trained sniper. There is no reason to be more fearful of a drone-based assassin than one armed with a rifle. The same existing laws and norms that prevent the president from capriciously bombing, say, Texas or ordering commando squads to assassinate American citizens, also apply to domestic drone attacks.
During his filibuster, Paul worried that the government might "kill people in America without even knowing their name." This worry is baseless. National security hawks can save face by agreeing that using drones to kill American citizens in the United States would be wrong and unconstitutional. But other infringements on constitutionally protected freedoms are not notional. By grandstanding on the issue of drone attacks, Paul loses the credibility that he and other advocates for limitations on the executive's power need to hold the president to account on the use of present-day surveillance technologies.
Unfettered surveillance from drones would be useful to law enforcement, just as it would be useful to not require search warrants. It is easy to convince the military, and law enforcement authorities, to give up capabilities that were never that useful to begin with. This is why the United States ratified the international treaty banning chemical weapons with comparatively little controversy -- chemical weapons never were all that effective as a tool of war (there was a heated debate about tear gas, which is useful). But the international treaty against land mines remains unsigned despite decades of effort by human rights advocates (and a Nobel Peace Prize), because land mines are seen as a useful force multiplier. The true challenge is to place limitations on tools that are genuinely useful to authorities but whose use infringes on the rights of citizens.
As the ACLU's Jay Stanley and Catherine Crump have written, the domestic use of drones by various state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies is already widespread, and is not effectively regulated. "Because of their potential for pervasive use in ordinary law enforcement operations and capacity for revealing far more than the naked eye, drones pose a more serious threat to privacy than do manned flights," they wrote in a 2011 report. Since then, the domestic use of surveillance drones has only increased, with only a scant patchwork of regulation by some states. (Bills have been introduced into the legislatures, though not yet passed, in Florida, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, Montana, and Texas, according to the ACLU.) None of those state-level regulations would restrict federal efforts.
The 5th Amendment's due process protections are not at risk from drones within America's borders for the simple reason that drones are an ineffective tool for bringing people to justice -- as was shown when Navy SEALs were sent to apprehend Osama bin Laden, rather than a drone. But the power of drones that can loiter indefinitely overhead, tracking the past and future movements of all who pass below, is real. The questions of how the 4th Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches applies to drones, and of privacy concerns more broadly, are vexing ones that Senator Paul can help us, as a nation, come to terms with.
Konstantin Kakaes is a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and can be found on Twitter @kkakaes.
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Maintaining a large military presence in Afghanistan is not in the strategic interests of either the U.S. or the Afghan government. It does not help the United States accomplish its long-term goal of countering terrorism from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, nor its short-term goal of helping Afghanistan achieve stability and self-reliance in fighting insurgency. It is also economically unsustainable. However, retaining a smaller, lighter, residual presence in Afghanistan is critical to U.S. strategy and vital to core U.S. interests.
Additionally, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan must be based on a vision that goes out decades: Considering only short-term goals amounts to strategic myopia, unworthy of the sacrifices made by almost 2,200 U.S. service members in Afghanistan alone.
A Case for Lighter, Smarter, Long-term Residual Presence
With Osama Bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda's capabilities diminished in the Af-Pak region, the immediate threat of attacks on the U.S. from the region has greatly diminished. But the ingredients that could help Al Qaeda regenerate in the next decade remain, and thus the mission endures.
In fact, the "surge" of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009 had little to do with bin Laden; rather, it was an attempt to rescue the failing mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. Bin Laden was hunted and killed not by the surge, but by a small, specialized group, the likes of which I argue should remain in Afghanistan to monitor and guard against the long-term threat of terrorist cells.
More importantly, a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy must include the training of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to counter domestic threats. But this will take significantly longer than estimates suggest. As such, the U.S. must alter its stated strategy in Afghanistan to consider the training and equipping of the ANSF a key element of its plan to counter threats, and support Afghanistan in its domestic fight against terrorists that, left unchecked, could re-emerge. The numbers of trainers must be kept low and should not be outsourced to contractors. Currently, the only elements specifically designed to counter insurgencies are the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF). Considering the nuanced task, the training force should be predominantly SOF.
With nearly 2,200 troops dead, thousands more wounded, and half a trillion dollars spent in America's longest war, merely staying the course in Afghanistan is no longer possible. In fact, with no sound opposition to President Obama's plan of swift withdrawal, the U.S. has decided to accelerate the transition from combat to training mission and, arguably less advertised, concentrate forces in a few heavily fortified locations such as Bagram Air Base.
Eleven one-year strategies in Afghanistan have brought us to a point where people consider "strategic retreat" the best of the worst options available. In pursuing this plan, however, the United States and its strategic partners in the Afghan Government risk a return to a time where fractured Afghan groups battled for supremacy, and an apathetic and financially exhausted U.S. didn't want to spend any more blood or treasure. History has shown that this "strategic retreat," fails to consider the greater geo-strategic importance of maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan
Without a firm presence in Afghanistan, the U.S. will have no bases in South-Central Asia. The only other alternative is Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan, whose lease is going to expire in 2014, and Kyrgyz President Almaz Atambayev has made it clear that his government will not extend the agreement any further. From a regional perspective alone, the U.S. must maintain a residual footprint in Afghanistan as a mechanism of influencing Central and South Asia. Stability in the AfPak region is critical in monitoring and combating a reemergence of al-Qaeda.
Ultimately, for the Obama Administration to achieve its objective of maintaining pressure on al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region, and supporting Afghanistan as a strategic partner - it must consider a nuanced strategy when looking at the composition of the U.S. residual presence. After 2014, Obama should employ a specialized force with a light footprint, but a big contribution. I recommend the following elements be in the mix:
1. A counter-terrorism task force to focus on the remnants of al-Qaeda and any insurgent groups that pose a threat to U.S. assets and interests. The specialized CT elements need to be able to engage targets throughout the country, so this will have to include both primary bases, and lily pads to extend their reach. These elements should train and utilize their Afghan counterparts as much as possible; ultimately, the Afghan counter-terrorism elements themselves should take over.
2. A robust counter-insurgency training force comprised of both ground and air special operations forces that will focus on the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in specialized COIN training - similar to that in Colombia. This extends to the mentoring of the Afghan Air Force, civil affairs, etc.
3. The only "conventional force" presence should be in the protection of U.S./Coalition bases. These bases should have maximum flexibility by maintaining minimal infrastructure in only 4 locations (Bagram in the East, Mazar-e-Sharif in the North, Herat in the West, and Bastion in the South). Additionally, a limited aviation training presence should be kept in the main training base for the Afghan Air Force, Shindand Airfield. The U.S. will probably maintain Bagram and Kabul, whereas Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, and Bastion should be supported by NATO partners.
4. In Kabul, all that should remain are the headquarters at ISAF - with some of its coalition partners' participation - a limited contingent on the military side of the Kabul airfield, and a NATO Training Mission Afghanistan command.
5. SOF should abandon the "Afghan Local Police" (ALP) in most areas and focus more on the development of the ANSF. A few years ago, with over 100,000 U.S. personnel in country, SOF could afford to focus on the ALP concept. Now, with only a few thousand U.S. service members in-country, the emphasis must be on the uniformed security services.
In terms of numbers, the right mix is about 4,000 SOF and SOF enablers, and 4-5,000 conventional forces and headquarters support. While the 9,000 U.S. personnel seems to be the "just enough" figure for an enduring presence, it seems the President may now be set on a lower figure due to financial constraints.
Setting a Long-Term U.S. Strategy for Afghanistan
The United States non-military strategic course in Central and South Asia needs to start in 2015, not end in 2014. The U.S. needs to consider its 2025 strategic vision, and make smaller contributions to the region but with bigger payoffs.
For example, the U.S. should work with other key allies to coordinate on increasing trade and creating more jobs in a region that is currently plagued with high rates of unemployment and poverty. Coordinating with Pakistan and investment giants such as the United Arab Emirates to secure funding for a road or railroad from Helmand to the port of Gwadar, or with Qatar to invest in Afghanistan's and Pakistan's natural resources can create thousands of jobs and boost economies. This is not something that is purely altruistic; such activities can greatly benefit U.S. interests. Furthermore, a strategic "pivot to Asia" can only be accomplished if there is stability in Central and South Asia. Afghanistan is critical to trade corridors from oil-gas rich Central Asia states (including Afghanistan) to the end users of South and East Asia. In effect, Afghanistan's geo-strategic importance goes far beyond trans-national terrorism threats.
Over the past 11 years, the international community has committed billions of dollars in an effort to stabilize and reconstruct a country ravaged by three decades of war. The U.S. alone has spent over $600 billion in the longest war in its history, with over $20 billion in governance and development funds. And yet, Afghanistan is still not economically self-sustainable. Perhaps that is not so shocking, though. President Obama himself made it clear (as early as May 2012) that, "Our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars and many more American lives."
Another way of looking at this, however, is the way most American veterans of the conflict view their sacrifices: as a strategic investment. They might argue that the dollars spent and the lives lost deserve a much more impressive outcome than simply a strategic retreat with Afghanistan in dire straits.
For their part, few Afghans welcome the U.S. withdrawal. While important to equip and strengthen the Afghan security forces, Presidents Karzai and Obama did not address crafting a long-term strategy that looks towards a stable Afghanistan in 2030, rather than a short-term "stable enough to transition security" by 2014.
Presidents Karzai and Obama - two leaders unable to seek reelection and concerned about their legacy - may still be able to give the people of Afghanistan a gift that can help stabilize Afghanistan. President Karzai has a unique opportunity to leverage his last year in government to broker a deal that can offer real hope of change and progress. On the American side, the U.S. and other donors should minimize "hand out" aid and focus on investments in Afghanistan. Donor programs don't create revenue, but rather act as symptomatic relief. Public funds, partnered with private firms, can help develop a self-sustaining Afghan economy. For the past three decades, the United States has appeared to prefer short-term strategies. They did not recognize the long-term consequences of inattention following the Soviet withdrawal. They seemed satisfied with the near term and non-committal cruise missile-targeting of Osama Bin Laden after a series of terrorist attacks in the late 1990s.
President Obama's inaugural speech last month made it clear that the "decade of war" has come to a close. By 2014, the U.S. should conclude this chapter by leaving behind a small training force, a robust counter-terrorism force, and an economic support model that is viable in the long-term. Significant intellectual and limited monetary capital must go toward achieving sustainable Afghan economic growth in the mid-to-long-term. Rather than how much is spent in Afghanistan, donors - and in particular, the U.S. as the largest - need to start paying attention more to effectiveness of what is spent.
Ultimately, the most important date on our 2014 calendar should be the April Afghan Presidential election rather than the December withdrawal deadline. If the election is not credible or moderately successful in maintaining the trust of key stakeholders in the democratic progress, the numbers of U.S. troops remaining will not make much difference in the post-election environment. The Afghan people and the international community will be watching closely to ensure that the election is an example of the democratic progress that 13 years of Coalition presence made possible. The troop levels, important as they may be, are only secondary to the success of the political process.
Gianni Koskinas was a military officer for over twenty years and now focuses on economic development projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GettyImages
Viewers watching the Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing for former Sen. Chuck Hagel Thursday could be forgiven for forgetting that America is at war.
Apparently, so did their senators.
In a marathon hearing that spanned eight hours, several Senate votes and one lunch break, Hagel's past statements and future outlook on Iran and the state of Israel won far more airtime than a conflict in which 66,000 US troops now serve. More time was spent discussing the appropriateness of talking with the leaders of Iran, with whom we are not currently at war, than the feasibility of talking to the leaders of the Taliban, with whom we presumably are. (Vice President Joe Biden noted a little over a year ago that the "Taliban per se is not our enemy.")
As the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekran tweeted, "At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali."
In the hearing's second session the word Afghanistan received only one mention.
In their curious mix of apathy and amnesia concerning America's longest-ever war, senators on both sides reflect the views of the American public. Polling shows more than sixty percent of Americans no longer think the war is worth its cost. CNN notes that in a fall CNN/ORC International poll not even five percent named Afghanistan as "one of the most important issues facing" America. And fifty-one percent of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said the war was "not worth it.
The recent presidential campaign also made precious little mention of the war still being fought and for which National Guard units continue to deploy. The President talked about bringing a "responsible end" to the war while Vice President Joe Biden repeated throughout the summer and fall that "Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive." On the Republican side Clint Eastwood and his empty chair mentioned Afghanistan more than GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
As former Amb. Ronald Neumann noted recently at the Brookings Institution, the debate around the war's future "has been completely ignored in the electoral period, and it is being framed all too much in bumper sticker phrases, which simply are idiotic ways of trying to understand the complexity of Afghanistan."
Americans and politicking officials have clearly developed a habit of ignoring America's decade-long war, but it is curious to see the next Secretary of Defense receive so few inquiries from senators about the war whose end he will presumably oversee in the coming years. A thorny rash of unpleasant questions surrounding Afghanistan's future confront the president and the Pentagon's next chief. These include: how many U.S. troops to keep in Afghanistan, how to define their mission, how generously to fund the Afghan forces and at what levels, and whether and how to proceed with peace talks with the Taliban.
None of those issues, however, sat in the spotlight at Thursday's hearing.
To those few questions Hagel did receive on Afghanistan he offered vague and decidedly noncommittal answers, aside from noting that he fully supports the president's current policy to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. But on the issue of post-2014 troop levels -of both American forces and the Afghan Army - Hagel said he did not want to speculate regarding exact numbers because he had not been aware of all conversations between President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
"As far as I know, as of this morning the president had not -- not made a decision on what a residual force, numbers-wise, would look like. I have not been included in those discussions, so I don't know, other than knowing that he's got a range of options, as you do," Hagel said regarding US troop levels. "As to what kind of a force structure should eventually be in place by the Afghans, I don't know enough about the specifics to give you a good answer, other than to say that I think that has to be a decision that is made, certainly, with the president of Afghanistan."
In 2008 then-candidate Sen. Barack Obama called Afghanistan the war "that we have to win." Now it is the war everyone wants to forget. Except those who cannot: on the same day as Hagel testified, the Kentucky National Guard announced it would hold two "departure ceremonies" for soldiers preparing for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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An October report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic claims to have found significant flaws in media reports regarding casualties caused by U.S. drone operations in Pakistan. Three organizations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, maintain databases that collect information on the casualties for each strike and their research is regularly cited in congressional reports and news articles. While the Columbia report laments that these estimates can only "substitute for hard facts and information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government," it proceeds to weigh in on the casualty debate. After a strike by strike comparison of the three databases' 2011 data, Columbia concludes that two of these organizations "significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by drone strikes," while singling out the Bureau as the most accurate and reliable source of information on drone casualties.
The Columbia study is quick to critique the drone data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, yet it devotes negligible attention to potential shortcomings in the Bureau's reporting. The study repeatedly applauds the Bureau's investigative practices, analysis criteria and the breadth of its sources. It offers the most guarded criticism, writing only, "we do not agree with the Bureau's analysis of media sources in all cases." Upon reading Columbia's "Counting Drone Strike Deaths," one is led to conclude that the Bureau's casualty estimates are both methodologically rigorous and empirically sound.
And yet, a careful reading of the separate 65 page dataset, which details the findings of Columbia's exhaustive comparison, reveals numerous instances in which the Columbia researchers reject the Bureau's interpretation of the evidence or dispute the credibility of their sources, criticisms that receive no mention in their widely circulated report.
Columbia only analyzed reports for 2011, but had they continued on with their research, they would have found that these problems pervade the Bureau's reporting on strikes from 2004 through 2012.
Based on this tenuous evidence the Bureau has claimed 45-240 civilian casualties. Taken together, this methodologically flawed reporting accounts for over 25 percent of the 474-884 civilian casualties the Bureau claims died between 2004 and 2012. While it is highly probable that some of these deaths may in fact have been civilians, in the face of so much ambiguity, it would be more prudent to label the deceased as unidentified or unknown. This would provide a more accurate representation of the evidence, and acknowledge that despite the best attempts to gather information, there is still much uncertainty about the outcome of individual strikes and the overall effect of the U.S. drone program.
The trends highlighted above point to three broader methodological flaws in the Bureau's analysis that Columbia researchers fail to highlight. The first is a problem of evidence. The Columbia report suggests that the widest range of sources will provide the most credible evidence, and based on the fact that the Bureau cites the largest body of sources and has the highest casualty figures, its numbers are the most reliable. Beyond the fact that the Bureau is a notable outlier as compared to the other two datasets produced by New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, it is a mistake to privilege quantity of evidence over quality. Pakistan Body Count, South Asia Terrorism Portal and the Long War Journal are secondary sources that rely on reporting from other media outlets and should not count as corroborating sources, yet the Bureau does so. Antiwar.com, sify.com, Prison Planet and the World Socialist Web Site are simply not credible news outlets, yet these are some of the sources that the Bureau is praised for citing.
The second problem is the absence of transparency in investigations of drone strikes carried out by the Bureau's own researchers. The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 13 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 56-64 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties. The strike on January 6, 2010 includes a typical description: "According to the Bureau's researchers five rescuers died, named as Khalid, Matiullah, Kashif, Zaman and Waqar, all belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe." However there is no indication of whom these researchers are or the standards they apply to their reporting.
The same criticisms that the Columbia report levies at unnamed Pakistani government officials discussing drone strikes on the condition of anonymity, could just as easily be aimed at the Bureau's own reporting:
We do not know who the unnamed Pakistani officials are, although observers believe they are Pakistani army officials. What definition these officials use to categorize a person as a militant or civilian is unknown. Nor do we know how the Pakistani Army confirms such deaths or the quality of information it is able to rely on given the limited accessibility of some of the tribal regions to even the Army.
The Bureau's researchers might well be the sort of local journalists or "stringers" the Columbia report is quick to term unreliable. Nor does the Bureau make mention of whom their sources are, when or where they were interviewed, or what was said. If the Bureau wants its findings to be taken seriously by other researchers, then it should provide independent reports of its investigations rather than cursory references in the midst of its dataset.
The third problem is one of interpretation. The Bureau consistently counts references to "local" deaths as civilian casualties, but as the Columbia dataset notes, these descriptors are not synonymous. The media reports are riddled with references to "local militants" and "tribal militants." It stands to reason that a significant number of the militants operating in the tribal regions of Pakistan would live in the area, and thus the mere fact that the deceased are reported as local is not sufficient to establish that they are civilians. And yet, the Bureau consistently claims just that. Even worse, it frequently labels the fatalities as civilians when the media accounts refer to them in neutral terms such as "people" or admits that their identity is unclear.
Furthermore, the Bureau's written methodology provides limited insight into how it makes these interpretations. The methodology makes no mention of how the Bureau treats reports of "local" deaths. Nor does it explain how it deals with conflicting reports. The methodology says that when reports differ it provides a range of total casualties, but it does not explain how the Bureau determines who to count as a civilian. It goes on to state that "where media sources refer only to ‘people' killed... we indicate that civilian casualties may be possible." One would assume they indicate this by way of an asterisk or note, but it would seem that in most instances it reports a range of civilian casualties with a low end of zero and a high end of the total killed. This denotes the uncertainty but potentially inflates the high end of the range of civilian deaths. Moreover, it signals a clear preference for counting unidentified casualties as civilians.
Admittedly, this somewhat esoteric discussion about the veracity of the Bureau's claims versus those of other databases, or the appropriate methodology for counting casualties, risks losing sight of the broader picture. These are not merely numbers; these are people. And no matter which database you reference, civilians are being killed by the hundreds. While this consideration should be paramount, an assessment of the drone program should also take into account those factors that are less quantifiable: the elevated rates of PTSD in areas where drones operate, the dangerous example being set for other states, most notably China and Russia, and the increase in anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan that risks endangering the lives of American citizens.
But as the Columbia study points out, numbers matter. Numbers drive our public discourse. Numbers are how politicians measure outcomes. Numbers are how we make sense of our world. And numbers are vulnerable to manipulation, a distortion that is equally dangerous whether it involves government officials lowballing civilian casualty reports or independent researchers potentially inflating them.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
Correction: This post initially stated incorrectly that "The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 15 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 65-73 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties." The correct numbers are 13 strikes and 56-64 reported civilian casualties.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
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Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 - Seth Jones
The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West - Mitchell D. Silber
What is the nature of al-Qaeda? Is it an organization with tight leadership structures and command and control, or is it an idea that takes harbor in the hearts and souls of disenfranchised or disillusioned young men and women seeking some greater meaning to their lives? Over time, the importance of these two schools of general thought has waxed and waned with various academics, authors, pundits and practitioners alternatively concluding the importance of one over the other largely depending on the nature of the latest plot to be disrupted. Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qaeda since 9/11 by Seth Jones and The al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West by Mitchell D. Silber offer different insights into this question, while reaching largely similar conclusions about what al-Qaeda is and how it has targeted the West.
Both of these books were published over a decade after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington bloodily thrust al-Qaeda into the public consciousness, meaning they are able to look back at a considerable amount of data. While Jones' is the more narratively satisfying book, telling a story of al Qaeda around the world, there are omissions in the text that reflect its heavy American focus. Silber's, on the other hand, is a case-by-case analysis that lacks a narrative storyline, but the accounts of the plots in question are drawn from primary sources that make them some of the most factually accurate versions yet told of the various plots, and bring new and interesting insights useful to analysts and researchers.
Gathering information from court documents, press, personal experience, and interviews the books focus on two different theses that ultimately reach the same goal. Silber sets out to find, "what is the "al Qaeda factor" in plots against the West?" For Jones, the central question is "what factors have caused al Qaeda waves and reverse waves?" "Waves" are "surges in terrorist violence" and "reverse waves" are "decreases in terrorist activity." The underlying aim of both is to understand how it is that al-Qaeda has targeted the West, and to what degree we can ascribe responsibility to the core organization.
Silber argues that there is a distinction to be drawn between those plots he characterizes as "al-Qaeda command and control," "al-Qaeda suggested/endorsed," and "al Qaeda inspired." As the definitions quite clearly imply, in each case there is some semblance of a connection to al-Qaeda or its ideas, but there is a distinct difference between the cases in which individuals sitting in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have provided direction, and those in which individuals internalized al-Qaeda ideas to try to carry out plots (or al-Qaeda-like ideas, given the inclusion of the 1993 attempt by Ramzi Yousef to bring down the World Trade Center, something he did after having been trained in Afghanistan and having plotted with his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but prior to Mohammed's swearing of bayat (allegiance) to bin Laden). The end result, however, of all three types is the same: a plot, or attempted plot, to attack the West in support of al-Qaeda's ideology. The cases offered are a laundry list of some of the most prominent plots targeting Europe, North America and Australia.
Jones' thesis is instead that al-Qaeda's violence has come in waves, the product of more or less intense and effective focus by counterterrorism forces. Identifying three key prongs to an effective counterterrorism strategy - a light military footprint, helping local regimes and authorities in their counterterrorism efforts, and exploiting al Qaeda's tendency to massacre civilians - Jones draws upon events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and Yemen, as well as al-Qaeda plots in America, Spain and the United Kingdom, to map out how these waves have crested and broken against determined counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda's ability to shoot itself in the foot, as in the wholesale butchery by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), is highlighted as an example of where the group goes too far and causes a local resurgence from which American forces were able to profit. It also serves to highlight how al-Qaeda Central can lose control of affiliates and suffer as a result. AQI's butchery not only appalled the general public, but it also led a number of scholars to write about the group's brutality and the numbers of Muslims that it wantonly killed whilst claiming to be targeting the West.
Here we can see how the organization would have liked to have tighter control, but was unable to maintain it. As the ideas it has been advancing take root, they increasingly find themselves being used by groups that take them in directions that detract from the original strategy of using terrorist attacks to stimulate the broader ummah into rising up. In some cases, like the Madrid bombings of 2004, the inspiration approach seems to work, as a group loosely connected to -- but not directed by -- al-Qaeda managed to carry out a successful attack on the West. In Iraq, on the other hand, where a local affiliate became too bloodthirsty, massacres of civilians led to the "Anbar Awakening" against al-Qaeda.
While al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is not the focus of attention in either book, he lingers as a background presence, his letters and writings surfacing as he tries to assert authority over the network he has created. In Jones' book we see others in the organization finding his leadership somewhat lacking. Jones quotes a letter in which top al-Qaeda operative Saif al-Adl expresses anger to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about how Osama "‘had failed to develop a cogent strategy for what would happen after the September 11 attacks." In Silber's text, bin Laden features even less, mentioned only as being aware of the 9/11 attacks (though plotting is described as being led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) and as meeting with some of the members of the ‘Lackawanna Cluster,' a group of Yemeni-Americans who prior to 9/11 travelled to Afghanistan and trained at al-Qaeda camps. Some of these young men heard bin Laden speak, and soon afterwards concluded they were not interested in doing any more training.
One of them, Sahim Alwan, was invited to speak to bin Laden directly, and the al-Qaeda leader asked why he was leaving and more generally about what Muslims in America were like. But, as Silber points out, while this presented an opportunity for the group to recruit the men, "it did not happen." Both authors conclude that bin Laden was important primarily as a figurehead. As Silber writes towards the end: "regardless of the nature of his precise operational role in the organization, in the ten years since 9/11, he had become a legendary and mythical source of inspiration to individuals in the West who aspired to join his movement, regardless of whether they were in London, New York, Toronto or Madrid."
But the larger figures in these books are the operational leaders underneath bin Laden. Coming from authors with deep involvement in American counter-terrorism efforts, the books are highly tactical in their approaches. Silber's is written from the perspective of a man who has spent many years tracking al-Qaeda's threat to New York as Director of Intelligence Analysis for the NYPD, while Jones writes as a researcher at RAND, drawing heavily on interviews with key players from the American counter-terrorism community, including Bruce Hoffman, Philip Mudd, Art Cummings, and John Negroponte.
Both authors conclude that al-Qaeda Central has tried and failed repeatedly over the years to launch attacks against the West. September 11 was a thundering success in this regard, but since then, while we have seen surges of terrorist violence around the world linked to al-Qaeda affiliates, the core organization's ability to effectively launch attacks has clearly been stymied by effective counterterrorism efforts. Heavy pressure means less time for people to be trained properly, and this means less effective operators and a reduced capacity to attack.
And while the spread of extremist ideas is important, it is not always going to produce great cells. While the Madrid group or the Hofstad Cell in Holland were reasonably productive cells that connected with peripheral al-Qaeda figures and led to results like the Madrid bombings or the murder of Theo van Gogh that impressed al-Qaeda, the Duka family in New Jersey or Russell Defreitas in New York (both highlighted in Jones' text) produced half-baked plots like the effort to blow up the fuel pipeline to JFK airport with no proper training that are hardly the sort of activity that al-Qaeda would want to be associated with.
Both books are useful in painting a methodical picture of how al-Qaeda has tried to attack the West, but where they are maybe less effective is in identifying how it is that these individuals can be prevented from ever going down the path of seeking meaning in al Qaeda's ideas. Jones does suggest finding ways to exploit the inconsistencies in al-Qaeda's narrative in order to undermine their capacity to recruit, but the fact is that more than a decade since the group's official creation, people are still being drawn to the flame. This suggests that we have still not figured out how to offer an appealing alternative narrative, and that the ideas that al-Qaeda advances are still able to draw recruits.
Jones's Hunting in the Shadows could be described as an official history of sorts of al-Qaeda from the U.S. government perspective. This makes it a different beast to Silber's The Al Qaeda Factor, in which a much more coldly analytical process draws a clear conclusion about the ‘al Qaeda factor' in various terrorist plots.
Jones and Silber both conclude that it is becoming ever harder for al-Qaeda to effectively connect with and re-direct these recruits back home to carry out terrorist plots. Taking this conclusion a step further, we may assume that over time this sort of pressure will wear the network down. But if they are able to harness individuals drawn to them more effectively and enable a further wave of terrorist violence, the al-Qaeda ideology may survive longer. The solution advanced in both of these books, and echoed by the U.S. counterterrorism community, is to maintain heavy pressure through drone strikes as well as support to the host governments, and continue to focus on disrupting the groups' capability to launch attacks on the West.
Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming 'We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
A report released in September by human rights researchers at Stanford Law School and New York University Law School sets out to demonstrate that U.S. drone policies are "damaging and counterproductive."
Media outlets from CNN to BBC hailed the report as new evidence of the U.S. government's false narrative on drones and the New York Times' Scott Shane described the study as "among the most thorough on the subject to date."
While the Stanford-NYU report certainly presents a comprehensive review of existing drone research, its new contributions to the evidentiary record are far more modest than its sweeping conclusions would suggest.
The U.S. government claims that civilian casualties caused by drones are in the "single digits" during Obama's years in office, while the Stanford-NYU report seeks to establish that there is significant evidence that U.S. drone strikes have killed and injured a larger number of civilians. This is a low bar, and would merely necessitate proving that more than 10 civilians have been killed by drones since Obama assumed office, a claim that has been made by all three major databases aggregating information on drone strikes. The Stanford-NYU report goes further, claiming that between 474 and 881 civilians have been killed since 2004.
However, this does not represent new evidence. Stanford and NYU researchers made no attempt to offer new statistical analysis on the number of civilian casualties caused by drones. Rather, their report is essentially an extended endorsement of a database compiled by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a small team of journalists based out of City University, London. In doing so, the report rejects the findings of two other widely cited databases, The Long War Journal, which reports 138 civilian deaths and New America Foundation's Year of the Drone, which lists 152-191 civilian deaths and the deaths of 130-268 "unknowns."
If the Stanford-NYU team wants to paint a picture of the U.S. as a human rights abuser, then the Bureau, whose casualty statistics dwarf the more conservative estimates of the other databases, is best suited to that purpose, but that does not make it the most reliable source.
While a comprehensive assessment of the Bureau's data should have been conducted before giving it a resounding endorsement, just a cursory review of its account of 2012's drone strikes reveals problems:
- On May 5, 2012 the Bureau reports that a strike in North Waziristan killed 8-10 people, of whom between zero and ten are listed as civilians. Upon reviewing the accompanying sources one find that early reports said the identity of the dead could not be determined, but subsequent reports from government officials identified them as militants. Of the 15 sources cited by the Bureau, not one states that the victims were civilians.
-On June 2, 2012 the Bureau reports that 2-4 people were killed and between zero and two of them were civilians. These civilian deaths were inferred based on a report that a motorbike was accidentally hit, but the Bureau fails to take note of a later report from The Express Tribune identifying the motorbike victims as suspected militants Khalil Yargul Khail and Rehmanullah Gangi Khail.
-On July 23, 2012 the Bureau references 25 sources for a drone strike, only one of which described the victims as local residents and based on this the Bureau reports that up to 14 civilians were killed.
The Stanford-NYU report critiques the Long War Journal for not making its data available in a verifiable strike-by-strike format, over-relying on U.S. intelligence sources, and identifying all victims as militants unless they are specifically identified as civilians. These are reasonable criticisms, but when the critique turns to New America Foundation research, it becomes logically inconsistent.
While Stanford-NYU researchers admit that all three databases rely on "the same universe of publicly available press reports," they criticize only the New America Foundation for over-relying on the anonymous Pakistani government officials cited in such news reports. The Stanford-NYU report laments that these officials are cited in 88% of articles referenced in New America's 2012 data but fails to consider that these same articles are referenced by the Bureau. Furthermore, the only reason the researchers were able to generate that statistic is because New America compiles a highly transparent summary of media sources relied on for each strike with a list of which sources reported which casualty estimates, something no other database provides.
The Stanford-NYU report goes on to question the "deep reporting" capabilities of New America's sources (The New York Times, Reuters, AP, BBC, etc.) while uncritically accepting the veracity of reports from fringe outlets such as the Kuwait News Agency, the South Asian News Agency, Central Asia Online, and Punjab News, which are sometimes the sole sources for the Bureau's reports of civilian casualties.
This is not to suggest that the Bureau's research is without merit, but it should be noted that it represents an interpretation of the facts with a bias toward reporting civilian casualties. The Bureau's database does not even have a category for reporting militant deaths. It seems counter-intuitive that the organization's researchers can have such absolute faith in their civilian casualty estimates, but not have the confidence to label any of the deceased as militants.
And the Stanford-NYU team was not impartial. By the report's own admission, the research project it undertook in Pakistan to interview family members of drone strike victims was commissioned by Reprieve, a UK based advocacy organization. Reprieve, which filed two lawsuits on behalf of alleged drone victims in May of 2012, arranged, paid for and collaborated on many of the victim interviews conducted by the Stanford-NYU researchers.
No database is perfect, but a strong argument could be made that the New America Foundation's policy of attempting to identify both militants and civilians while maintaining an explicit category for "unknowns" to represent the uncertainty surrounding many of the strikes is a more balanced representation of the facts. After all, if the public is to assess the efficacy of drone strikes then we need to consider the strikes that hit their targets as well as the ones that do not.
Stanford and NYU's analysis of the three drone databases, in some respects, misses the forest for the trees. A comparison of the annual data collected by the Bureau with that compiled by the New America Foundation suggests that while their numbers may differ, their underlying findings are substantially similar. Both the Bureau and New America have observed a general decline in the percentage of civilian fatalities since the high in 2006, with a sharp decrease during the Obama administration. According to the Bureau's data, the proportion of civilians killed in drone strikes fell from 35 percent in 2008 under President Bush to 9 percent thus far in 2012. Similarly, New America reports that the rate of civilian and unknown casualties decreased from 23 percent in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. This stands to reason when we consider that the Bureau tends to err on the side of assuming that unidentified dead or individuals of disputed identity are civilians, while New America prefers to accommodate ambiguity by listing "unknowns" and only reports a civilian or militant casualty when it is reported by two independent sources.
If one takes the average number of civilian and unknown deaths counted by the New America Foundation from 2004-2012 as a percentage of the total number of people killed in drone strikes, the civilian and unknown deaths represent 15 percent of the total. The Bureau's data suggests that civilian deaths account for 22 percent of the total killed. These numbers are in fact, not so very far apart. And while the Bureau has criticized New America for reporting that in 2012, civilian deaths are approaching zero, the Bureau's own data suggests that the percentage of civilian casualties in 2012 is at nine percent, an all-time low and significantly less than the 23 percent the Bureau reports during Obama's first year in office. This suggests that the choice is not between two very different data sets, but rather two different interpretations of similar evidence. Contrary to the Stanford-NYU report's claims, the New America Foundation is not underreporting civilian casualties; its researchers have simply chosen not to feign certainty in the face of ambiguity.
What They Didn't Say
The Stanford-NYU researchers also fail to incorporate evidence that might temper their claims. Their report makes numerous references to an AP investigative report that interviewed 80 villagers at the sites of the ten deadliest attacks in 2011 and 2012 but neglects its conclusions that "a significant majority of the dead were combatants" and the numbers of casualties gathered by AP investigators "turned out to be very close to those given by Pakistani intelligence on the day of each strike."
Numerous media accounts, including the LA Times, have highlighted that "the [Stanford-NYU] study concludes that only about 2 percent of drone casualties are top militant leaders." The study reached no such conclusion. This claim is based on research conducted by New America and published last month on CNN. While the Stanford-NYU report summarily dismissed New America's militant and civilian casualty estimates, they have been quick to make this statistic a centerpiece of their argument. In doing so, they also take the conclusion out of context, and ignore the possible tactical utility of deliberately targeting low-level militants. Indeed, destroying communication centers, training camps and vehicles undermines the operational effectiveness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and quotes from operatives of the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network reveal that drones have forced them into a "jungle existence" where they fear for the lives on a daily basis.
A second key contention of the Stanford-NYU report is that drone strikes are "damaging and counterproductive" to U.S. national security. However, it is shortsighted to evaluate U.S. security in isolation from Pakistani domestic order. Terrorist attacks have been a pervasive problem in Pakistan, especially since 2007. While the report references these attacks and the frequent assassinations carried out by Taliban forces, it makes no reference to recent research by an analyst at the RAND Corporation, who identifies a negative correlation between drone strikes and militant violence inside Pakistan, indicating that the rate of violence has gone down as the rate of drone strikes has gone up. Analysis by New America suggests that while only 10 percent of drone strikes target al-Qaeda operatives, approximately 50 percent hit Taliban targets and in 2009, 19 of the first 32 drone strikes targeted the organization of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, and the alleged mastermind of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mehsud was a far greater threat to Pakistani security than that of the United States.
These criticisms are not to suggest that the Stanford-NYU report is without merit. The anecdotal evidence on the adverse mental health impact of drones, the economic hardships created by attacks and the restriction of movement caused by FATA residents' anxiety about potential strikes are all valuable contributions to the public's understanding of drones, as is the report's succinct and cogent summary of some of the key legal issues. Both of these topics merit further research and the teams at Stanford and NYU seem well poised to continue contributing in these areas.
However it would be a mistake to unequivocally accept all of the report's conclusions or its stance on the civilian casualty debate. The U.S. government's claims that civilian casualties from drone strikes during Obama's term in office are in the single digits are manifestly untrue, but there is no need to overstate the rate of civilian deaths to make the point that drones strikes are legally suspect and morally hazardous.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
In a remarkable act of 'pin the war on your opponent' Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday evening worked to portray Paul Ryan as the candidate most in favor of continuing the unpopular fight in Afghanistan, a conflict President Barack Obama once called the "war that has to be won" and to which he added 33,000 American soldiers.
Biden said that Ryan and his GOP running mate Mitt Romney support a timeline for drawdown of the remaining troops in Afghanistan that is based on conditions on the ground. And then he proceeded to ridicule that idea.
"My friend and the governor say it's based on conditions, which means ‘it depends,'" said Biden of the Afghan war's promised 2014 end. "It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security."
"Our goal should be to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014," Romney said in September. "We should evaluate conditions on the ground and solicit the best advice of our military."
Ryan Thursday tried to defend his ticket's position and clarified that "we don't want to extend beyond 2014." Instead, he said, he and Romney want to be certain that American troops still in the field have enough strength in numbers to pursue their fight.
"We want to make sure that 2014 is successful," Ryan said. "That's why we want to make sure that we give our commanders what they say they need to make it successful."
Of course Biden's own Pentagon sounded a lot like Ryan last November.
"We've repeatedly said that the nature of the drawdown after the surge troops come home will be conditions-based," Pentagon spokesman George Little said, according to Reuters. "No decisions have been made."
But Biden said that it was now up to Afghans, not Americans, to fight this war.
"Because that's the Afghan responsibility. We've trained them," said Biden. "We should send Americans in to do the job, instead of the -- you'd rather Americans be going in doing the job instead of the trainees?"
America's longest war won little attention in the first presidential debate and even less at either party's convention this summer. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has struggled to define his position on Afghanistan and how it differs from the president's. The major distinctions: Romney does not favor Taliban negotiations and while he supports President Obama's 2014 drawdown he says he would not have announced it as Obama did.
But in the 90-minute vice presidential showdown, the candidates wrangled on Afghanistan multiple times, both at the start and toward the end of the evening.
And Biden made it clear, again and again, that the war's end was in sight regardless of what happens on the ground.
"We are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period," said Biden.
Sec. Clinton says every time she speaks of Afghanistan - most recently at last week's meeting of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission - that the United States "has made an enduring commitment to Afghanistan." In Afghanistan last May the president said the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries sent "a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone."
But no such reassuring language came from Biden as he sought to make Ryan look more hawkish on a war that his administration pursued and to which it added 33,000 "surge" forces in 2009.
Five years ago then-candidate Obama called Afghanistan the ‘right' war when compared to Iraq. And he said that might alone would not bring victory.
"The solution in Afghanistan is not just military - it is political and economic," Obama said at the time. "Above all, I will send a clear message: we will not repeat the mistake of the past, when we turned our back on Afghanistan following Soviet withdrawal. As 9/11 showed us, the security of Afghanistan and America is shared."
On Thursday Biden made clear that the only mistake of the past he sees is embracing a bloody and expensive war that a majority of Americans now say is not worth its costs. And he tried to make Ryan look more hawkish on a war that his president advanced and the public no longer backs. It is unlikely war-weary voters will pay much attention to the vice president's policy waltz on the country's long-enduring conflict. Most Americans simply want out, and, like Biden, the "how" is now far less important to them than the "when."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
This month marks the end of the American surge in Afghanistan: the 33,000 additional troops President Barack Obama authorized in his administration's first months will complete redeployment, leaving behind a force of 68,000. By launching the surge in December 2009, President Obama attempted to remedy the previous administration's inattention to the Afghanistan effort and fully resource a civilian and military stabilization campaign.
Although the surge's primary military objective was to reverse the Taliban's momentum and train Afghan National Security Forces, it also aimed to "promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government." It would focus on local Afghan government institutions. After widespread acknowledgment that international assistance had concentrated too heavily on Kabul in the years after the 2001 Bonn Agreement, the new U.S. approach aimed to connect local-level governance structures to national ones "from the bottom up." The new strategy endeavored to build governance and development in regions of the country recently "cleared" from a security perspective-largely in Regional Commands South and East. For the first time, U.S. personnel and resources would flow directly into the district level in some of Afghanistan's most volatile areas.
Over three years after President Obama's initial strategy announcement, and as the international community shifts to transition mode, what lasting impacts has the surge had on Afghan subnational governance? A new paper from USIP, drawing on over sixty interviews with Afghans and Americans based at the district level, explores this question. Examining both the U.S. military's localized CERP-funded "governance, reconstruction, and development" projects and civilian stabilization programming, this paper argues that despite policymakers' proclamations of modesty, the U.S. surge aimed to profoundly transform Afghanistan's subnational governance landscape. Although the surge has attained localized progress, its impact has fallen short of this transformative, sustainable intent because its plans were based upon three unrealistic assumptions.
First, the surge overestimated the speed and extent to which specific types of governance intervention would yield progress. In military parlance, it assumed that the campaign's quick success in "amassing security effects" would be mirrored by (or closely approached by) the speed with which it amassed governance effects. Plans assumed that in the realm of governance, more resources could make up for less time. For example, surge policy presupposed that with enough assistance, local governors could rapidly foster legitimacy and durable local support. It also assumed that American aid could quickly establish vertical linkages for service delivery-connecting increasing local "bottom up" demand for services to the "top down" of ministries' delivery systems. Finally, plans assumed that governance successes would quickly gain momentum of their own and spread "ink blot" style, rather than continuing to require great amounts of U.S. inputs.
A second miscalculation was the expectation that the surge's "bottom up" progress-the result of dedicated work by locally-based U.S. and Afghan personnel-would be matched by "top down", Afghan-led systemic reforms to make this local progress durable. Where surge personnel encouraged district governors' responsiveness to their local populations in the short run, they hoped that in the longer term, these local officials' incentive structures would shift to ensure they were more accountable to their constituents and not Kabul. Instead, the Independent Directorate of Local Governance's subnational appointment system made claims of reform and merit-based improvements but in practice left Kabul's longstanding patronage system largely unchanged.
In addition, as U.S. officials worked with district-level councils to improve the competence of these shuras, they assumed that, in the longer term, the councils' makeup and authority would be formalized by the Kabul-based government. Instead, Kabul showed little appetite to reconcile the confusing, competing array of local councils or to standardize their powers. (Very recently, after the Tokyo conference, a committee led by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) is drafting district council regulation, but any implementation will come too late for the surge.) Finally, some surge personnel labored to increase local officials' budgetary prioritization skills so that local needs could be reflected in central line ministries' decisions. But any meaningful fiscal deconcentration, apart from a nascent and currently-stalled provincial budgeting pilot, was unlikely during the lifespan of the surge. In short, the surge showed that one key ingredient-Afghan political will to undertake needed structural reforms-was not malleable from the "bottom up."
Finally, the surge rested upon the assumption that "lack of governance" was a universal driver of the insurgency, for which service delivery was the appropriate cure. Though this analysis rang true in some districts and municipalities, in others, particularly some remote parts of Regional Command East, observers suggested that presence of government became a fueling factor. In these regions, the local insurgency represented a response to the intrusion of the Afghan government, viewed as extortive and foreign. The presence of ISAF troops facilitating this extended Afghan government reach represented a further grievance for communities who wanted to be left alone. Stabilization programs attempted to win popular support by providing services, but in some areas these initiatives were just atoning for the fact that outsiders-Western and Afghan alike-had shown up in the first place.
More broadly, there is genuine debate over whether "more service delivery" is truly the appropriate prescription for the most contested areas of Afghanistan targeted by the surge. Beyond a deep local desire for security and justice, most other international offerings of "service delivery" found themselves abutting preexisting Afghan arrangements to locally manage everything from karez (irrigation canal) cleaning to equitable water distribution. Many service delivery offerings targeted local requests that were never before expressed, thus creating newly inflated expectations. Meanwhile, the insertion or elevation of local government officials to administer these programs often facilitated extortion, further alienating the local community.
What to make of the surge's governance track record? In many ways, this record merely echoed criticism of the surge's plans from the start, from those inside and outside of U.S. government: the campaign was overly ambitious for an externally-driven effort on a short timeline. So why was optimism so high at the outset? Partial explanations reside in American confidence about perceived counterinsurgency success in Iraq, and enthusiasm at finally resourcing the "good war" in Afghanistan. In addition, Capitol Hill and the American electorate would have been unlikely supporters of an effort billed as a very long, hard slog.
But once the surge was in motion, other American miscalculations emerged that fueled optimism. One was the confusion of discrete successes with replicable progress. When a previously hostile district such as Helmand's Nawa transformed into a peaceful one, the unrelenting stream of VIPs sent to visit did not necessarily see the unusual combination of tribal makeup, leadership calculus, and disproportionate American inputs that prevented the "Nawa Model" from being generalizable, or sustainable. Another common miscalculation was mistaking a local Afghan official's individual advancement with wider progress in building the institutions of local government. In a country where subnational officials are regularly reshuffled or, unfortunately, assassinated, this metric was deceptive. Finally, on a separate note, American officials often placed considerable faith in the power of technical and technological solutions to resolve problems that were fundamentally political in nature. New solutions fed new optimism.
As the surge recedes, the upcoming transition offers an opportunity to apply its lessons toward future governance and development planning. The U.S-Afghan Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement[i] represents a promising opportunity to embrace strategic planning that is longer in term but more realistic in ambit. As the international community draws down, it should exert its remaining governance-related leverage to impact select systemic issues rather than tactical-level ones, such as standardizing the system by which district council members are selected, improving ministries' recurring services, and bolstering provincial and municipal administrations. The international community should also prioritize a few key, attainable efforts, such as providing training that is consistent with current Afghan government functions, while avoiding creating additional structures. Finally, the surge proved once again that all the usual Afghan local governance recommendations still apply: resolving Afghanistan's subnational challenges requires long-term commitment and systematic execution.
Frances Z. Brown is an International Affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an Afghanistan Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images
Less than half of Americans approve of Obama's job as president. According to Gallup's most recent poll, his job approval rating is 49 percent. However, there is one area where President Obama gets high marks: drone warfare. In June the Pew Research Center reported that 62 percent of Americans approve of the President's use of drone strikes.
Targeted killings by drones were first introduced under President Bush in 2002 when a Hellfire missile slammed into a Jeep in Yemen, killing Qaed Senyan al-Harithi, a key conspirator in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. And yet it is President Obama who has consistently made headlines for authorizing hundreds of attacks in Pakistan, and recently dozens more in Yemen. According to a recent CNN article based on data compiled by the New America Foundation, President Obama has carried out six times more strike during his first term than Bush did during his entire eight years in office.
On its face these numbers would seem to suggest that President Obama is the more aggressive commander-in-chief, that he is uniquely unencumbered by concerns for Pakistani sovereignty, a stronger proponent of drone warfare and disproportionately committed to killing al-Qaeda members. However, analyzing Obama's drone policy in isolation from larger geopolitical issues, obscures that which is truly radical about his foreign policy.
The rate of drone strikes was already increasing exponentially when Obama took office. He continued that trend and made the politically unpopular decision to give Afghanistan the resources he thought it deserved, while using drones to deny terrorists safe haven in Pakistan and targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban rank and file rather than just their commanders.
During his tenure, George W. Bush did not fail to use drones effectively; rather he was preoccupied with Saddam Hussein. From 2002 to 2008, the Bush administration devoted a preponderance of the United States' military assets, political capital and administrative attention to Iraq. In 2005, the Air Force had just two Predator drones monitoring the whole of Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas, to say nothing of resources in Pakistan. It was not until the summer of 2008, seven long years after 9/11, that they began to shift their focus back to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. From January to June 2008 U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan nearly doubled, going from 26,000 to 48,000.
At the same time, the Bush administration made a critical decision to stop requesting Pakistani authorization prior to each strike. With a new government taking over in Pakistan and a renewed sense of urgency brought about by a Presidency quickly coming to a close, the White House seized the opportunity to re-write the diplomatic rules of the Predator program. The impact was immediate. During the first half of 2008 Bush authorized a modest five drone strikes. In his last six months he approved 31. Had he served a third term, we can reasonably expect, based on this trend, he might have carried out 62 strikes a year, if not more. Obama's annual average is 75.
This shift was facilitated not just by domestic factors, but by a
fundamental change in Pakistan. Just as Bush and the U.S. military were pivoting
their attention back to Afghanistan, domestic security in Pakistan was
deteriorating. In December of 2007 Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of
Pakistan and then opposition party leader was assassinated in a combined sniper
and suicide bomb attack. Bhutto's death was just one of many. Prior to 2007,
there were less than ten suicide attacks a year, however, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace, by 2009 there were 87
suicide attacks and 2,586 terrorist, insurgent and sectarian related incidents
of terrorism. Afghanistan succumbing to a Taliban coup would be tragic, but in
Pakistan, a country with over 100 nuclear warheads, it would be
catastrophic. Thus domestic terrorism and political insecurity presumably made
the Pakistanis more hospitable to drone strikes, while making intervention an
From the outset of his presidency Obama identified Afghanistan as not only a just war, but a strategic necessity. Within a month of entering office, President Obama announced the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and within a year he announced a surge of 30,000 more. Shortly after the reinforcements arrived, in September of 2010, the military launched a major offensive in Kandahar province. Drone strikes in Pakistan immediately skyrocketed from an average of 7 per month to 24 in September. This remains the deadliest month on drone record, with approximately 140 militants reported killed and zero reported civilian deaths.
This aggressive pursuit is a marked difference from Bush's Battle of Tora Bora, during which bin Laden and dozens of his followers escaped into Pakistan.
While Bush sought to decapitate the leadership ranks of al-Qaeda, Obama has sought to cut their legs out from under them, destroying the foot soldiers, rather than just the officers. According to data compiled by the New America Foundation, while a third of all strikes by President Bush killed a militant leader, under President Obama, that number has fallen to 13 percent and leaders account for only 2 percent of all total drone related fatalities.
However a war of militant attrition is not without advantages. Drone attacks based on patterns of activity rather than individual identity have decimated the ranks of low-level combatants, forcing would-be terrorists to look to their own survival rather than plotting the next attack. The omnipresent threat of a missile strike has restricted freedom of movement, impeded communication and destroyed dozens of training camps.
Under Obama drones have not only been a tactic to hunt terrorists leaders, they are also a tool for preventing spillover into Pakistan at a minimum cost of U.S. blood and treasure, and, despite some civilian casualties, with minimal disruption to the state of Pakistan.
Finally, there is also evidence to suggest that many of the attacks were designed to appease Pakistan, in that drones have pursued Taliban leaders who were more threatening to Pakistan than to the United States. In the first eight months of 2009 the United States carried out 32 drone strikes, 19 of which targeted Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban and alleged mastermind behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Thus some portion of the increased targeting of the Taliban may simply reflect the costs of doing business.
What Obama deserves to be lauded for is not increasing drones strikes, but rather a willingness to give Afghanistan the attention and resources it deserved while confronting the spread of violence in Pakistan. Facts on the ground indicate that the drone program has been an operational success. Under Obama's watch drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 1,332 to 2,326 combatants and the number of monthly terrorist attacks in Pakistan has fallen by over 50 percent since the high in 2008.
The question is not whether the next administration, be it a Romney or Obama one, will continue to use drones. The question is whether drones have reached the limits of their tactical utility. The core of al-Qaeda is in disarray and drone firepower had begun to focus on regional affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and beyond. However, killing militants will not cure the world of terrorism, it can only help to restrain it. The solution lies in committing the diplomatic and financial resources to address the political and economic instability upon which Islamic extremism feeds. A truly courageous commander-in-chief must know when to prioritize statecraft over armed force.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy.
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On Sunday, there will be a "splendid ceremony" marking the handover of the United States' Bagram prison. Yet despite the pomp, the handover hides the real story - the Afghans wanted this to mark the end of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, while the U.S. has other ideas.
Remaking Bagram: The Creation of an Afghan Internment Regime and the Divide over U.S. Detention Power, a new report from the Open Society Foundations, revealed that while Afghan officials say they will have complete control over the Bagram detention facility-also known as the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP)-by September 9, 2012, the United States is likely to continue to control a portion of the facility. The Afghan government says that no detentions will be carried out by the U.S. military, while the United States maintains that it "still retains the authority to capture and detain."
This partial handover has come at a high cost for Afghanistan: the creation of a new internment regime that will allow the Afghan authorities to detain without trial. A number of Afghan officials have called this new regime unconstitutional and fear it will be subject to abuse.
The creation of an Afghan internment regime appears to have been introduced largely at the behest of the United States, in order to facilitate the handover of U.S. held detainees, and satisfy the U.S. desire for a lasting internment system on the Afghan side into which it could continue to transfer future captures. The system, created last March, closely resembles the U.S. system at Bagram. It was not introduced through legislation or even consultation with Parliament-instead it was created last March through a secret "inter-ministerial agreement" and unpublished presidential decree that are vaguely worded and ripe for abuse.
There is a danger that this will be the real legacy of Bagram--the creation of a flawed system of detention without trial in a country already wracked with decades of internal conflict, impunity, and weak rule of law. The Open Society Foundations learned that U.S.-Afghan disagreements over these issues led to a temporary suspension of detainee transfers from U.S. to Afghan control, which was resolved only days before the handover deadline.
And yet the "handover" ceremony will go on. In fairness, the majority of U.S.-held detainees have been transferred to the Afghan authorities at enormous speed over the past six months, and U.S. officials in Afghanistan are confronted with genuine challenges to transferring detainees responsibly. Handling of detainees by the Afghan government carries the potential for politicization and corruption of detainee releases. The capacity of the current government to process and properly prosecute detainees' cases is weak, and there is risk of detainees suffering torture and abuse, concerns that were compounded by a controversial new appointment to head the intelligence directorate. But differences between the United States and Afghanistan also reflect a central, long-lasting tension between Afghan sovereignty and U.S. strategic interests that has yet to be resolved, and that the March 9 handover merely papered over.
With the ISAF troop drawdown underway, the United States is trying to thread a tough needle: put Afghans in the lead on security, while at the same time continuing U.S. military operations, and protecting U.S. personnel. The role of special operations forces, and the reliance on detention operations like night raids, remain central to U.S. military strategy. Despite Afghan demands for sovereignty over night raids, there has been no sign of a decrease in these detention operations or the number of detainees sent to Bagram. The Open Society Foundations learned that since March, the United States has sent an additional 600 detainees into U.S. detention at Bagram, which President Karzai's National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Spanta said was "not in accordance with our agreement."
Not only is this at odds with Afghan officials' unqualified insistence on complete control of the DFIP, and an end to U.S. detentions there, but it highlights another, related disagreement: how long the United States can detain an individual before handing over to Afghan authorities. "After the signing of the [Detentions] MoU the time limit to hold detainee is 72 hours and should be respected," Presidential Spokesperson Aimal Faizi told us. National Security Advisor Dr. Spanta reiterated that "There is a big difference in perception between them and us on this issue. ...I have discussed this with Karzai...and there is no tolerance with him on this issue."
Another unresolved issue is that of "third country nationals," or non-Afghan detainees. They remain in U.S. custody at the DFIP, their fate uncertain, and at risk of falling into a legal limbo of indefinite detention. The stalemate on these detainees ensures that the United States will continue to retain at least some portion of the DFIP for the foreseeable future, raising the troubling specter of another Guantanamo in Afghanistan.
Not wanting to rob President Karzai of a key political victory, the Afghan government appears, for now, to be turning a blind eye to these issues, and to the serious rule of law concerns that they raise. However, one of the principal criticisms of Bagram was its lack of legitimacy in the eyes of many Afghans-its secrecy, prolonged detention without trial, lack of access for lawyers and fears of detainee abuse. One has to wonder whether this is precisely what the United States has handed over to Afghanistan.
Agreeing to vaguely worded agreements that permits the U.S. and Afghan governments to interpret their obligations in starkly different ways may serve immediate political interests, but it is no way to build a lasting, legitimate, or lawful framework for detentions and ongoing military operations. Both governments have failed to resolve fundamental differences over the future of U.S. detention power in Afghanistan, and have presented the Afghan and American publics with very different pictures. These tough questions will be answered another day, it seems, as is often the case in Afghanistan.
Chris Rogers is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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A beat was missed on U.S. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon's late July visit to Beijing. Described in the Chinese press as a "fire extinguisher visit," it came as tensions continue to ratchet up in the South China Sea and the United States continues to butt heads with China over Iran, Syria and theoretical war plans. These disputes obscure the one area with scope for much greater cooperation between China and the United States: Afghanistan. Building on mutual goals in Afghanistan could have a positive effect on the overall relationship, showing that the distance between the two sides is not the Pacific-sized gulf that it is sometimes made out to be.
In discussions with Chinese officials about their objectives, the uniform answer is "a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan." This is almost identical to answers given by their American counterparts. That said, there is a difference in tone that reflects the underlying concerns that craft it.
For Beijing, Afghanistan is primarily a domestic problem. With a common border in the sometimes lawless Wakhan Corridor, what happens in Afghanistan can potentially spill over into some of China's most sensitive spots. This past spring, we visited China's border in Wakhan and witnessed the ease with which militants or smugglers can cross over. Even if trouble from Afghanistan does not cross directly into Chinese territory it is likely to have a destabilizing effect in Central Asia to the north, and Pakistan to the south. China has invested heavily in both, and both have strong trade and cultural links to China's underdeveloped and at times restive Xinjiang province. Beijing's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is first and foremost about China's internal cohesion.
For Washington, the problem of Afghanistan is physically far away. The decision has been made to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, so the discussion is no longer what to do about the country, but how to exit in a dignified manner. What security concerns the United States continues to have will be covered by the residual force left behind, but the overriding priority is for the draw down from Afghanistan to not descend into chaos as soon as the majority of American and NATO forces leave. In our recent visit to Kabul, we could not help but note the principal focus of U.S. officials on this one goal. Washington's interest in Afghanistan turning out positively is about leaving behind a country more hopeful than when U.S. forces arrived.
This clear confluence has led American diplomats to encourage their Chinese counterparts to invest in Afghanistan's future. Beijing has responded in its own way. Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs) have invested in a copper mine southeast of Kabul at Mes Aynak and an oil field in Amu Darya. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is seriously looking into a trans-Afghan natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China that does not necessarily rival U.S.-backed plans for a similar line to Pakistan and India.
China's engagement is not only economic. It made Afghanistan an ‘observer' member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its June summit. While in Beijing, President Karzai also signed a strategic partnership agreement with his Chinese counterpart. Last week, China's Central Military Commission publically called for closer ties with the Afghan Defense Ministry.
There is also increasing evidence of low-profile cooperation with the United States on the ground in Afghanistan. There have been joint U.S.-China training programs for Afghan diplomats, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton providing a recorded message to open one session. Beijing has also indicated that it would be willing to provide counter-terrorism training for Afghan forces, coordinated with U.S. efforts. Chinese officials we spoke to in Beijing and Kabul were quick to downplay their potential role in the future of Afghanistan. But, their actions show that they understand the regional implications of the looming U.S. withdrawal.
A neighbor will always be more aware of the blighted house next door than will someone living across town. The limited collaboration between American and Chinese officials on the ground in Afghanistan is a pragmatic and sensible step. Their principals in Beijing and Washington should support them by discussing the modalities of a partnership for Afghanistan's future.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Alexandros Petersen is the author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West. Their joint research can be found at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
we lose, it's going to be because of the civilians."
This pre-emptive attempt to define the epitaph of the Afghanistan war (made by a U.S. official at NATO) could almost be the one-line summary of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America. The author himself spreads the blame even wider. "Our government was incapable of meeting the challenge. Our generals and diplomats were too ambitious and arrogant. Our uniformed and civilian bureaucracies were rife with internal rivalries... Our development experts were inept. Our leaders were distracted."
Little America is a well-researched, clearly-written exposé of the debates, disputes and political skullduggery between those involved in the Afghanistan "surge" in 2009. I found it easy to read: it mixes together comedy, tragedy, suspense and political analysis.
It is inevitably influenced by the people who talked to the author, who include (to judge from the endnotes) a large number of people in or close to the U.S. military; military perspectives predominate. And the losers in the book are more numerous than the winners.
Loser: Little America. It turns out that this project, intended to revitalize Afghanistan's agriculture in Helmand in the 1950s, essentially failed. The story of its failure -- over-ambitious, overfunded projects unsuited to Afghan realities -- is eerily prescient.
Loser: The Afghan Army, which comes across as badly-led and inept. "It's better for us," an Afghan soldier tells Chandrasekaran, "to let the Americans chase the Taliban."
Loser: The civilian surge. The image of drunken party-goers urinating against the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy's political section is hard to forget. But there is a lot of truth in the broader, more serious point. Security rules stopped civilians from engaging with Afghans, making the civilians' presence in Afghanistan in the first place a very expensive exercise in futility.
Loser: USAID. Chandrasekaran describes its bizarre war against the sensible, if
short-term, idea of combating drugs production by subsidising alternative
crops. "Their thinking is all about free trade," a USAID official is quoted
saying about the agency's management. "But what about the goal of keeping
people from shooting at our troops?"
Loser: The Brits and the Canadians. I thought this was going to happen as soon as I read the sentence "British commanders planned to show the Americans... how the pros executed counterinsurgency". As ever, pride came before a fall. By the end of the book, the British are suffering casualties at a higher proportion than the Americans, and are not too proud to ask the Marines for help. The Canadians, who preferred to run Kandahar with far fewer troops than the British and without Marine help, also come in for criticism. (As Chandrasekaran hints, the underlying problem was the original decision that provinces of Afghanistan should each be farmed out to separate NATO allies. Surely, the reader might think, there could have been a better way for NATO allies to work together than this.)
Loser: The chain of command. A U.S. company commander was transferred to a desk job as a punishment. His crime? Posting up remarks made by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. This was apparently an unwise move in a brigade whose commander disagreed with McChrystal's approach. And that wasn't the only time that McChrystal was thwarted by technically more junior staff. The Marines were largely outside his control, thanks to a deal they had made with the Pentagon prior to their deployment to Afghanistan (they reported to a separate, three-star general at US Central Command). McChrystal, despite nominally being the most senior military officer in Afghanistan, wasn't even able to shut down fast-food restaurants at the Kandahar Airfield, which he felt were distractions in a warzone.
Loser: President Obama, whose decision to surge and withdraw comes across as the worst of all worlds - not giving Afghans any reassurance that the Taliban would not come back in a few years' time, while meantime costing tens of billions of dollars and reducing pressure on the Afghan Army to do its job properly. "To many Afghans...more troops meant more insecurity," Chandrasekaran suggests. The book also makes the case that the President was ill-served by bickering among his senior staff.
Winner: The warlords and their militias - presented by Chandrasekaran as brutal and exploitative, but also as effective fighters against the Taliban. Take Spin Boldak police chief Abdul Razziq's militia: "Unlike Afghan army units, many of which needed to be prodded and led into battle, Razziq's troops charged right in."
Winner: Joe Biden, whose proposal of "counterterrorism-plus" in Afghanistan looks to have been dead on. Raids against Taliban commanders could still have continued without pinning down tens of thousands of U.S. troops in the field day after day.
Turning the pages of this book, I felt that I was reading the obituary of muscular nation-building. Chandrasekaran's conclusion suggests not only that America has failed in Afghanistan, but that it was bound to fail. "It wasn't America's war," he concludes.
the reduction in the Pentagon's budget and a shift to East Asia - where the
United States is less likely to get directly involved in combat -
Afghanistan-style interventions may indeed be things of the past. And it's hard
to feel sorry about it after reading this sentence:
"The United States was spending more each year to keep Marine battalions in Nawa and Garmser than it was providing the entire nation of Egypt in military and development assistance."
Nawa and Garmser: population, 160,000; remote agricultural communities; few from the area have ever travelled outside it. Egypt: population, 85 million; highly urbanised and connected by direct flights to the USA; birthplace of modern Islamic militancy and of the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
We need not stop at Nawa and Garmser. The whole operation in Afghanistan departed far from its original objectives, which were to deal a blow to al-Qaeda and reduce its chances of attacking America again. The United States could surely have dealt al-Qaeda a greater blow with the half a trillion dollars that it has spent in Afghanistan, if it had spent a large part of that money elsewhere (Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Mali...). As this book implies, it would have done a better job in Afghanistan, too, if it had spent less money and been more focused on its original goal.
That is what makes me just a little bit more optimistic about Afghanistan than Chandrasekaran. He is giving the war in Afghanistan a fail grade: it was winnable, he says, but the West lost it -- and maybe was bound to lose it, because we just aren't configured to conduct and win such campaigns.
This may be premature. Public discontent with the war and President Obama's determination to pull back combat troops will likely now force a move to a new kind of U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- one that is small-scale, out of the faces of Afghan civilians, and long-term. It may or may not be enough to save Afghanistan from a renewed plunge into civil war; it will almost certainly set a limit on Taliban ambitions and make them keep their distance from al-Qaeda. It makes a great deal more sense than the Sisyphean labors that the United States has set itself for the last six years or so.
Gerard Russell headed the U.K. Government's
outreach efforts to Muslim audiences worldwide after September 11, 2001. He
subsequently worked as a diplomat in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where
he headed the U.K. Government's political team. He was a Research Fellow at
Harvard 2009-10 and is writing a book on religious minorities in the Middle
East, to be published by Basic Books in 2013/14. He is fluent in Dari and Arabic.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
Just over a decade ago, in January 2002, the world came together in Tokyo in the wake of the fall of the Taliban regime to pledge our common support for political, economic and social transition in Afghanistan.
We were well aware of the long-term nature of the commitment we were making, in
line with the ancient Afghan proverb, "One flower will not make a
As key world leaders convene this weekend in Tokyo to reaffirm this commitment and keep faith with the Afghan people in advance of the draw-down of international combat forces, it is important to also reflect on the significant achievements made in Afghanistan over the past decade, especially for women and girls.
Afghan women today live an average of 15 years longer than they did a decade ago, thanks to dramatically increased access to health care, increased midwife assisted births, a tripling of gross domestic product per capita, and a large decline in the number of people living in extreme poverty.
Educational opportunities for women and girls have expanded dramatically: nearly 40 percent of students enrolled in schools are girls and 120,000 female students have graduated from secondary schools in the last five years alone.
About 40,000 young women are enrolled in public and private universities, with more enrolling each year.
Some observers are concerned that these achievements, will unravel with the
departure of international combat forces and that these gains could be
reversed. But, the Afghan people - with our support - are not prepared to
sacrifice the gains they have made, particularly by Afghan women, as they
understand that no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people
That is why our agencies - U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department - will continue working with our Afghan and international partners to support opportunities that enable Afghan women and girls to fight for gender equality and implement laws protecting their human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.
The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed in Kabul in early May provides a long-term framework for relations between the United States and Afghanistan after the drawdown of U.S. forces and highlights the mutual commitments of both nations to the protection of women's rights and the advancement of the essential role of Afghan women in society in order to live up to their full God-given potential economically, socially, and politically.
There's a long path ahead for Afghanistan.
But part of the way ahead is simple and clear - tapping Afghan women's full potential is essential to achieving peace, stability and economic growth in Afghanistan.
And so one notable difference between the two Tokyo conferences is the enhanced participation of women this time around.
Women will be in Tokyo in full force: indeed, the past 10 years, women have raised expectations for their inclusion even as they have shown that women in Afghanistan are a powerful force of stability, brokers for peace, and a vital component of economic opportunities.
Civil society groups attending Tokyo are calling for equal participation in the Afghan and international delegation; the adoption of "gender-impact statements" for all reconstruction and development projects; and the allocation of external funding to projects that advance education, health, housing, livelihoods and other opportunities for women and girls.
A strong civil society and full participation of Afghan women at national, local and provincial levels also will give us the best chance for any potential for peace. The role of civil society is particularly constructive in the ability to bring communities together working at the grassroots level. They can help to develop peace rooted at local levels and then most importantly to help keep it.
No, a single flower does not
make a spring, but A combination of a strong civil society working together
with the Afghan government to guarantee women's rights will cement their
crucial role in Afghanistan's future.
With our mutual support and careful nurturing, the advancements of the strong women of Afghanistan over the past decade can blossom into a stable, prosperous and sustainable future for the people of Afghanistan.
So we'll stand by them.
Melanne Verveer is President Obama's Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues and Donald Steinberg serves as deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA track down the world's most wanted man in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, is undergoing a 33-year jail term on charges of lending financial and physical support to a banned militant outfit in Khyber, one of the seven tribal districts partly overrun by the Taliban and their supporters. Afridi's punishment -- which many see as merely retribution by the Pakistani government (as opposed to a normal court proceeding) for his cooperation with the United States' intelligence community -- came exactly a year after he was subjected to secret Pakistani interrogations and under the legal auspices of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).
The colonial-era law has been under serious criticism from civil society representatives in Pakistan and human rights organization both inside the country and abroad because a number of its clauses are in violation of basic human rights. Although the elected Pakistani government has boasted of introducing reforms in the tribal areas and amending the FCR, Afridi's "trial" has exposed the grim reality of a judicial system where an individual can be sentenced while denied the proper recourse to defense. However, the illegitimacy of these charges against Afridi only masks a far more complex state of affairs.
Before being whisked away by Pakistani intelligence agents on May 23, 2011 in the outskirts of the tribal Khyber Agency and his subsequent court appearance a year later, Afridi had already once experienced something similar when he was brought blindfolded to the warlord Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam.
It must have been déjà vu.
In 2008, he was arrested and presented before Mangal Bagh under the shadows of guns and bayonets and was asked to explain why he did not provide medical treatment at the time to Lashkar-e-Islam militants after battle. Afridi was lucky, at least at that time, that one militant testified before Mangal Bagh that the doctor had treated him well when he (the militant) visited the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in Dogra after receiving a bullet injury. The statement saved Afridi's life but his family had to procure a payment of two million rupees, roughly $20,000 U.S. dollars (obviously a hefty sum for an average Pakistani family) to win his release.
In 2008, Afridi stood alone before a warlord without any counsel and without any right even to speak in self-defense. The judge, the counsel, and the plaintiff were one person -- Mangal Bagh. Four years later, Afridi found himself faced with a similar situation. This time he was presented before an officer of the Pakistani state. But again he found himself without counsel and without a chance to speak in his own defense. And this was the court of the Assistant Political Agent (APA), who charged him for his "close links with defunct Lashkar-e-Islam and his love for Mangal Bagh."
If it was really a "love", then much better to call it "love under duress", as living and serving in Bara, a town located less than 15 miles from Peshawar and a fiefdom of Mangal Bagh, requires one to have ample courage and strength.
The clear and cruel paradox in Afridi's case is that the state of Pakistan found him guilty of involvement in anti-state activities by "providing medical assistance" to militants of the very group that charged and punished him before for not sufficiently aiding their efforts -- and who subsequently robbed him of his family's wealth. If payment of a ransom to save one's life -- or the lives of his family -- from a group of thugs and its elusive leadership is an anti-state act, then roughly half of the tribal area's population could be charged under the offense and punished along the lines of Afridi.
Furthermore, if we applied the same investigation process used against Afridi to some in the state security agencies then it wouldn't be hard to establish links between certain sitting members of parliament from FATA and militant outfits. It was the Bara-based Lashkar-e-Islam that issued a fare list for transporters and a code of conduct for candidates contesting the 2008 general elections from the Khyber Agency. Interestingly, no state security agency, not even the powerful army involved in the tribal areas over the past 10 years, seemed to notice Magal Bagh and his army of volunteers running a parallel state by imposing fines, forcing people to pray five times a day, punishing men for walking bareheaded, kidnapping people for ransom, and carrying out executions.
The more pertinent question one must ask is whether Afridi's "links" with Manal Bagh was the real charge against him? It has been clear from the time of his arrest soon after the May 2 raid in Abbottabad and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that the answer is definitively "no". That Afridi, being a citizen of Pakistan and employee of the state, worked for a foreign intelligence agency is in no way an act that could be defended. But for reasons well known, he was not tried under those charges. Rather, he was implicated in a low-hanging fruit charge of a ludicrous association with a group that once abducted and fined him two million rupees -- thus raising more questions about Pakistan's sincerity in fighting militants in the country.
The two verdicts handed down to Afridi -- one by Mangal Bagh in 2008 for not providing medical assistance to his men, and the second by the Pakistani state in 2012 for "providing medical and financial assistance" to militants -- are enough for the international community to understand the dilemma of tribesmen sandwiched between the state security agencies and the militants.
For years, tribesmen have looked to their government and state security agencies for protection against the groups of thugs operating in their areas, and have at times taken up arms to fight. Yet they find scant change in their circumstances. Is it little wonder that they invariably surrender and sometimes even agree to "support" militants, in the way Dr. Afridi did?
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Several weeks ago, the United States government placed a $10 million bounty on the head of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed as part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice Program. Saeed is the founder of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed up on the bounty with complaints that Pakistan should be doing more to bring Saeed to justice, to which Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani responded on May 13 that available evidence was insufficient to arrest Saeed.
In the aftermath of the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Saeed was detained, and then released uncharged, despite damning information provided to Pakistan by the U.S. and Indian governments firmly linking LeT to the attacks. This lack of action was no surprise to terrorism analysts outside of Pakistan, who strongly believe that LeT has been deliberately fostered as a proxy by the shadowy and largely unaccountable intelligence service in Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or the ISI.
Yet the circumstances of this particular bounty are unique, and that uniqueness may lead to an interesting new example of the so-called "law of unintended consequences." The bounty calls for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Saeed, yet unlike Osama bin Laden or leaders of the Taliban for whom rewards are on offer, Saeed is not in hiding; his whereabouts in Pakistan are generally well-known. However, if a Pakistani citizen were to call the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and say, "Saeed is at an anti-NATO rally in Lahore right now," that person is not going to collect the reward, because the information can't lead to his arrest and prosecution without help from Pakistan, help which is clearly not forthcoming. Given the angry backlash in Pakistan against both the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound last May, and the border shooting incident last November that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead at the hands of NATO forces, it is also unlikely the United States is going to carry out a unilateral operation to grab Saeed.
Practically speaking, Saeed would have to be outside of Pakistan, in a country that would honor the arrest warrants against him, for any person or group who reported Saeed's whereabouts to collect the rich bounty. Knowing this, Saeed isn't too likely to voluntarily depart the one country where he can be sure he won't be arrested. In fact, he requested protection from the Pakistani government shortly after the bounty was announced, indicating that the suspect himself may be concerned about individuals looking to collect the massive reward.
As Pakistan is clearly not going to arrest Saeed, the bounty on his head, and the subsequent complaints by Clinton, could be viewed simply as ongoing protests by the U.S. government about Pakistan's protection of Saeed and formal notice that LeT will be receiving scrutiny levels similar to al-Qaeda. Fine, so far as that goes...but what is to stop a criminal gang, a band of mercenaries, or even a group of patriotic Indians, from kidnapping Saeed, smuggling him out of Pakistan, leaving him tied up in a safe house in, say, Sri Lanka, phoning the U.S. Embassy and demanding the $10 million reward in return for Saeed's location?
Putting a huge bounty on the head of a person who cannot be arrested and prosecuted in his home country, but who also isn't in hiding, is surely a powerful motivation for anyone enticed by the bounty to make sure Saeed is outside Pakistan and wrapped in a tidy package before reporting his whereabouts. And while the current shaky relations with Pakistan make it unlikely that the United States would take unilateral action inside the country, there is nothing to stop anybody else from deciding the offer on Saeed is too tempting to ignore. Lest one consider this an unlikely scenario, look no farther than Colombia, where fat rewards for kidnapping and weak/corrupt law enforcement have turned kidnapping for cash into a cottage industry that had become a major source of income for narco-terrorist group FARC. Crime and corruption are at meteoric levels in Pakistan, and there are plenty of criminal gangs who may consider the U.S. government's offer on Saeed as too tempting to pass up.
Encouraging people to grab Saeed and get him out of Pakistan was almost certainly not the intent of Rewards for Justice offer. But when Pakistan's clear refusal to act against Saeed is considered in tandem with the conditions necessary to claim the money, it is hard to imagine the offered reward, practically speaking, as anything other than an open bounty for the rendition of Saeed outside Pakistan, regardless of whether that is what it was ever intended to be.
Art Keller is a former CIA case officer who served in Pakistan and the author of the new novel about Iran, Hollow Strength.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) signed by President Obama and President Karzai in the dead of night in Kabul on May 2nd, and the recently concluded Chicago Summit, have sent an important message that the international community is not abandoning Afghanistan, and that Afghanistan's stability and security remain a key objective of the United States and its NATO allies. The Chicago summit has ratified crucial details of the security strategy to meet these objectives. But the last decade in Afghanistan has shown that security strategies in the absence of political strategies do not translate into peace and stability. The international community's political strategy has always been muddled or murky at best, or missing altogether. But politics is happening in Afghanistan, providing new opportunities even as international troops withdraw. After Chicago, there is an urgent need to ensure that a strategy for the upcoming political transition in Afghanistan, and in particular the 2014 presidential election, receives similar policy attention as has been devoted to the security transition and the SPA.
We've just returned from a few weeks in Afghanistan, where we perceived both a new and energized spirit of politicking for the 2014 presidential elections, as well as baldly stated fears of a return to civil war. For many we interviewed, the two are inextricably linked - a massively flawed election in 2014, or a failure to hold an election at all, could easily result in a destabilizing situation where there is no legitimate civilian control, and security forces could break down and begin competing for power along ethnic and factional lines. If so, the tens of billions of dollars devoted to building the Afghan security forces, under the assumption that they would come under civilian control, could amount instead to an investment in a more ruthless and costly civil conflict that further destabilizes Afghanistan and its neighbors. Given this huge risk, not only for Afghans but also for core U.S. national security interests in the region, it is imperative to rectify the major imbalance between the time and effort devoted to planning the security transition vs. the political transition - especially given that the fate of both are so deeply intertwined.
In Kabul, the political transition discussions we had often boiled down to one question: what will Karzai do? He has repeatedly stated publicly that he will not be president after 2014. But there are few examples in Afghan history of orderly and peaceful transitions of power, and many Afghans refuse to take President Karzai at his word. If it is true, as Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said, that "information is the currency of democracy", then rumor is the currency of Afghan democracy (some might say, more simply, that currency is the currency of Afghan democracy). Karzai's statements have been dismissed by many Afghans with a raft of conspiracy theories on how he will extend his power. These range from the Constitutional (declaring a state of emergency-though this could only last two months before it would need to be ratified by the parliament), to the coercive (convening a rigged loya jirga to change the constitution), to the too-clever-by-half (resigning with his two vice-presidents before his term is up and running a few months later on the ground that he had not completed two terms).
President Karzai's recent proposal to hold elections in 2013, ostensibly to take advantage of the larger number of international troops, only fueled the suspicions of those who refuse to believe that he will respect the Afghan Constitution. At the same time, many of those we spoke to say that Karzai recognizes that any attempt to subvert the Constitution will lead to demonstrations in Kabul. One political figure said that the regime can only fall as a result of unrest in Kabul, not insurgency in the provinces. The one thing that would bring rioting to Kabul's streets, he argued, would be an attempt to hold onto power unconstitutionally, and that Karzai is aware of this and would not risk it.
If President Karzai does give up power constitutionally, there are several plausible scenarios. The first would be for the political elite, including Karzai and major opposition figures, to settle on a single candidate. An elite consensus along these lines would turn the election into a sort of referendum, and minimize the probability that electoral fraud would be as destabilizing as it was in 2009. The second scenario is that Karzai backs a candidate who many opposition figures find unacceptable, but a broad-based opposition coalition is able to agree on a single rival candidate. In the event of a hotly contested race that this scenario could result in, the quality of the election would play a crucial role in ensuring a legitimate transfer of power. A third scenario would be for Karzai to back a candidate while the opposition is unable to unite. This could allow Karzai to perpetuate his hold on power through the election of a political proxy-many in Kabul called this the "Putin-Medvedev scenario".
What happens next depends as much on the opposition as on President Karzai. At crucial moments, opposition figures have lost their nerve, preferring to be co-opted by the palace rather than face the real risks of confronting the existing power structure. Even now, the opposition is divided between those who claim that Karzai has become so powerful that he-or any candidate he backs-is invincible, and those who claim that he is intrinsically weak but that the international community's deference has made him artificially strong. The opposition appears to be waiting for signals-from Karzai that he will allow a fair election (for example, by setting an election date soon and by ensuring the appointment of independent election commissioners), and from the international community that they will insist on it. The danger of on-going ambiguity about the commitment to support and hold credible elections is that Afghan political figures will not take the required risks to participate constructively in the consensus-building process. It would not be surprising if Karzai tested the nerve of his opposition, in the hopes that it collapses under the test. It has worked in the past.
Nonetheless, there are encouraging signs of political activity aimed at the presidential election. Candidates and parties are organizing, opposition parties are making specific demands for electoral reforms, and a process to reform the election legislation has begun.
The international community, however, has greeted this activity with extreme caution. The common talking point of senior U.S. government officials is that elections in Afghanistan are a sovereign matter. Opposition figures listen to this in dismay, arguing that the sovereignty the internationals are protecting is not Afghanistan's, but Karzai's and the corrupt and predatory political mafias with strong links to the palace. A true respect for Afghan sovereignty, they argue, would require the promotion of a level political playing field. They have a point: it is curious at least that the presence of 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the provision of assistance worth about the equivalent of the country's GDP, is somehow not an infringement on sovereignty, while pressure to hold fair elections in accordance with the Afghan Constitution is perceived to be too intrusive and risky. The greater risk is that such misplaced sensitivities that are often interpreted by Afghans as lukewarm international support for democratic elections, and/or undue skepticism that credible elections can be held, will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are, however, good reasons for international caution. Government and opposition figures alike noted that the international community's legitimacy on elections was undermined in 2009 by the perception that the late U.S. State Department Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, backed individual candidates against Karzai rather than supporting the process. President Karzai has used this to frighten the international community away from its legitimate concerns about the process, whereas the key lesson from 2009 should be to forcefully support the process but not individual candidates. Furthermore, a fundamental difference between the 2009 and 2014 presidential elections, which should reduce some of the sensitivities regarding international support for the process, is that Karzai has publically stated on numerous occasions that in accordance with the Constitution he will not be contesting the next election.
The U.S. government was particularly cautious about antagonizing Karzai, including by raising election-related issues, during the long and drawn-out process of negotiating the SPA. Many Afghans expressed concern that this caution will continue during the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement, which must be completed in the next 12 months, giving Karzai at least another year of tranquility on electoral matters. The U.N., which took positions in both the 2009 and 2010 elections that angered Karzai, is similarly reticent, and in public at least echoes the "sovereign process" talking point.
Given this reticence to date, the widely reported meeting President Obama had with President Karzai on the sidelines of the Chicago Summit, during which issues of electoral reform and planning for the 2014 elections were raised and discussed, are a very encouraging sign that the U.S. will now be prioritizing the political transition and supporting and advocating more publically for credible elections in 2014. While international support for elections must be done sensitively and respectfully, too quiet and soft of an approach would be a big mistake. The majority of Afghans who respect the Constitution and want a democratic future for their country need to be assured that the international community led by the U.S. is committed to doing everything possible to ensure relatively free and fair elections. The stakes of the 2014 election are very high, and the future stability of Afghanistan - ultimately the core strategic interest of the U.S. - is likely to depend on the perception of the election's legitimacy. While the challenges to holding credible elections in 2014 are undoubtedly great, and the risks considerable, the much greater risk is to continue to pay scant attention to the political transition, and to pin hopes on a stable and secure Afghanistan solely on the abilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. One need not look far in the region to see the negative consequences for peace and stability, not to mention democracy, of relatively strong security institutions and very weak civilian institutions.
For better or for worse, the international community has inherited a partial responsibility for ensuring that the next elections play the role of consensus-building and state legitimation that would be the most likely way to save the country from civil war. The international community can fulfill this responsibility by doing the following:
Given the recent history of Afghan elections, it may seem implausible to bet on Afghan democracy as a means of solving Afghanistan's deep-rooted problems, but almost everyone we spoke to were clear that it was the only bet to make. Democratic processes might not succeed, but everything else will surely fail without them.
Scott Smith is the Deputy Director for Afghan Programs, and Andrew Wilder the Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs, at the United States Institute of Peace. The views reflected here are their own.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
President Obama's surprise speech in Kabul on May 1 was a political stunt filled with the kind of mischaracterizations typical of a campaign, but the actual U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement that he signed while there was something of greater substance.
Much of the agreement echoed the language and intent of the earlier 2005 Strategic Partnership Agreement. Both agreements sought to reassure the Afghans of the United States' staying power, and articulate broad principles on which the bilateral relationship rests. They are both "executive agreements," which lack the power of formal treaties ratified by the Senate. To that extent, the agreements are like cotton candy: pleasant, fluffy, but easily torn apart. That may explain why the Afghans, having the 2005 agreement in hand, felt the need to pursue further reassurances once Bush left office.
According to some reports, the Afghans were looking for a full-fledged mutual defense treaty. Such a treaty would have obligated the United States to treat an attack on Afghanistan as an attack on itself. If so, the Afghans are surely disappointed, but they were also unrealistic in their hopes. It is difficult to envision Americans accepting a defense treaty obligating American intervention in South Asia in perpetuity when most no longer welcome our actual intervention in Afghanistan to fight a war that two presidents have argued is vital to our national security. The Afghans probably got the strongest expression of support possible in the current U.S. political climate.
The crux of the long-term U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in the new agreement is this: "The Unites States shall designate Afghanistan a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally.'" The Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) designation was created by Congress in 1989 as a way of identifying America's major strategic partners without the burdensome requirements of a formal treaty. It confers a range of benefits, including participation in U.S. Defense Department research and development projects, preferential access to U.S. military surplus supplies, the use of U.S. loans to finance weapons purchases, and expedited applications for space technology exports. More importantly, the designation has a powerful symbolic value: it is a public affirmation of a country's affiliation with the United States, a global badge of American approval. Although the designation does not technically carry a security guarantee or legally obligate the United States to come to the defense of a designee, the label of "ally" implies as much. Only 14 states and Taiwan have been given the MNNA status.
Critics may argue that MNNA status is merely symbolic, but symbols are important. Afghanistan is now in the same category as Japan, Australia, Israel, and Pakistan. And the agreement goes beyond the symbolic, stipulating that the United States will train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces "consistent with NATO standards and [will] promote interoperability with NATO forces." To cement relations between the newly-minted "allies," the Agreement commits the United States to negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan over the next year, and the administration is also initiating talks on a Status-of-Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a defense cooperation memorandum of understanding (the timing allows the Obama administration to delay decisions on difficult issues like detentions and night raids until after the election).
Collectively, these provisions communicate a relatively strong U.S. commitment to Afghan security and begin to undo the damage done by the Obama administration's various and shifting deadlines for the Afghan mission. In a best-case scenario, in ten years or so the Afghan Army could become one of the key developing-world partners and force-multipliers for U.S. and Western military forces in contingency and peacekeeping operations. Afghanistan could become the next Bangladesh, providing the manpower for peacekeeping missions that Western nations are willing to fund but not man, in exchange for which the Afghans get valuable operational experience and funding. (The Agreement won't, however, be a help in any future U.S.-Iran war, as it expressly prohibits the U.S. from using Afghan territory to attack another country. The clause, reflecting an understandable concern by the Afghans, may also complicate the U.S.'s ability to attack terrorist targets inside Pakistan).
Of course, these assurances only matter if Kabul defeats the Taliban insurgency, a topic on which the Agreement is oddly silent. The Agreement affirms the joint goal of defeating "al-Qaeda and its affiliates," the closest it comes to referring to the Taliban. There is vague language restating the long-standing reconciliation policy-that unspecified "individuals and entities" must sever ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence, and accept the constitution-but fails to identify at whom the policy is aimed. The United States just pledged a decade's worth of security cooperation to a country in the middle of a civil war, but managed to avoid talking about the civil war.
The silence is probably calculated to protect the Strategic Partnership in the event the Taliban join the government following a negotiated peace. Kabul and Washington can claim that the Agreement is not aimed at the Taliban, who therefore have nothing to fear from it. In other words, out of fear of what the Taliban might do in a hypothetical future scenario, the Americans and Afghans gave them a seat at the negotiating table in the Strategic Partnership talks, effectively rewarding them for their threat of continued violence. This is a poor negotiating strategy. Instead, the Agreement should have identified the Taliban, committed the parties explicitly to its defeat, and only then reiterated the reconciliation policy.
The Agreement has other weaknesses. For example, it commits Afghanistan to providing the United States with continued access to military facilities through 2014 "and beyond as may be agreed," needlessly requiring Kabul and Washington to re-negotiate access to Afghan facilities again in two years. The 2005 agreement contained no expiration date on American access to Afghan facilities (like Bagram and Kandahar air fields), a much simpler arrangement that still respected Afghan sovereignty under the obvious understanding that the Afghans could ask the United States to leave at any time.
Similarly, the Agreement pledges the United States to "seek funds on a yearly basis" for Afghan assistance, a weak and unenforceable clause. The Agreement failed to commit the United States even to an aspirational target of financial aid to Afghanistan. For example, the United States could have promised to seek at least $2 billion per year for security assistance and $1 billion per year for civilian assistance, which would have afforded a small amount of protection for Afghan aid after 2014, when donor fatigue and Congressional inattention set in.
The most troubling aspect of the agreement, mirroring the overall weakness of the Obama administration's Afghan policy, is the evident imbalance between the military and civilian aspects of U.S. engagement there. For years, the United States has invested massively in building up the Afghan Army and police but comparatively little in building the Afghan government. The result is a strong Afghan Army and a weak Afghan state, a highly unstable and dangerous combination. If the Afghan Army ever successfully defeats the Taliban, it could itself suddenly become the greatest threat to Afghan national security.
The new agreement only perpetuates this unhelpful dynamic. After several pages detailing U.S.-Afghan security cooperation and a decent section on economic assistance, it contains a brief, vague, throw-away section on governance. Afghanistan promises to improve itself, and the United States promises to help, with no details, no promise of new resources, and no promise of training up to international standards. The one or two solid ideas regarding governance in the agreement-that the U.S. will channel more of its aid through the Afghan government, and align its aid to Afghan priorities-may be unachievable precisely because the capacity of Afghan institutions continues to lag and suffer from endemic corruption. Compared to the detailed, specific, and increasingly dense U.S.-Afghan security partnership, the U.S.-Afghan governance partnership is almost non-existent. The United States risks replicating the same error in Afghanistan that characterized U.S. policy towards Pakistan for the last six decades.
Nonetheless, as a whole, the new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership is a strong signal of enduring American commitment to help one of the world's most failed states, and secure American interests in South Asia. After more than ten years of effort with halting progress and fragile, reversible gains, such commitment is welcome. The partnership is arguably one of Obama's best achievements on Afghan policy (after the 2009 military surge), and showed some political courage considering the increasing unpopularity of the war among the American electorate, especially in his own political base. The very fact that there is a strategic partnership agreement will help to buy time for Obama, or his successor, to improve on its weaknesses in 2014 and beyond. That will go a long way to upholding America's promise to the Afghans.
Dr. Paul D. Miller is an Assistant Professor of International Security Studies at the National Defense University's College of International Security Affairs. The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect those of the U.S. government.
Afghan Presidential Palace via Getty Images
On May 14, 2012, Pakistan took a wise step toward transforming the potentially impotent Afghan reconciliation efforts into some that may be relatively productive and viable. As all interlocutors involved have acknowledged, without Pakistan's sincere efforts at reconciliation, only instability in Afghanistan can be guaranteed. The decision-makers in Pakistan are increasingly recognizing that leveraging their ability to create instability in Afghanistan is no longer a desirable policy option. Irrespective of what their fears, temptations and externally-created compulsions are, Pakistan's civilian and military rulers understand that three decades of instability in Afghanistan have generated an acute security crisis at home.
Washington shifts its Afghanistan policy away from a focus on force to a policy
that finally moves towards political reconciliation -- as Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton had recommended in
her February 2011 Asia Society address -- it appears logical for Islamabad to
seek a genuine partnership with Washington and Kabul for peace in Afghanistan.
Accordingly, to revive a partnership with the United States on the Afghan reconciliation process, Islamabad has recognized the importance of sending a positive signal by making tangible moves toward reopening NATO ground supply routes through Pakistan. U.S. and NATO officials had made it quite clear that Pakistan's participation in the imminent summit in Chicago was contingent upon its lifting of the blockade on NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan, a move that could also score points for the ruling party in the next elections.
Pakistani government, with its political opposition vehemently
opposed to the reopening of the routes to NATO, has taken a major
calculated risk in making the announcement. Washington has not yet made a
public apology for the November U.S.-ISAF helicopter strike at Salala, which killed 24 Pakistani
soldiers; the terms for NATO's use of Pakistani supply routes are not yet
finalized; Pakistani officials have not yet negotiated a deal ensuring that
drone attacks are no longer conducted unilaterally by the CIA; and ISAF has
given no concrete guarantee that there will be no repeat of the deadly attacks
on Salala. Drawing on these facts, the opposition accuses the government of
abject weakness, incompetence, selling out, and surrendering to U.S. power. It
is being blamed for its failure to fully leverage control of the supply routes
to Pakistan's advantage, and for making this decision to please Washington.
Indeed, while at least some of these accusations cannot be rejected without careful consideration, the fact remains that governments must take calculated risks, and they must balance the potential costs and benefits of those risks. That is what Pakistan's present government has done. In a less than perfect context, it concluded that the NATO summit is important because it brings Pakistan into the policy-making discussion regarding the future of Afghanistan. Clearly, when Karzai and the United States are having that discussion -- and now also pursuing the dialogue with the Taliban that Pakistan has been advocating -- Pakistan must not abandon the opportunity to be part of the process.
Pakistan's relevance to Afghanistan's peace is arguably greater than that of
other countries, Pakistan cannot "go it alone." Finding a solution to the
conflict in Afghanistan is not a unilateral affair. Peace cannot and has not
come by simply engaging with or trying to control the Taliban. All the parties
involved need to work in partnership, on the best negotiated terms possible.
These realizations within Pakistan augur well for the Afghan reconciliation process, but some domestic truths still need to be acknowledged in Washington. For reasons of pragmatism, self-interest, and in order to maintain a viable partnership with Pakistan, the Obama administration needs to go beyond its present policy of stalling on issues that are of immediate concern to Pakistan. First, Pakistan needs an immediate apology, which the U.S. president himself must issue at his Chicago meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Second, the United States must draw up measures to ensure Pakistan's prior knowledge of planned drone strikes, as well as its clearance of intended targets, areas of operation, and the number of attacks. Third, both nations need to agree on fair payments for the use of Pakistani ground supply routes to Afghanistan. And fourth, NATO must make comprehensive guarantees that a repeat of Salala never happens.
These steps would create a Pakistan-U.S. partnership that
genuinely promotes their shared objective of regional peace and stability, not
to mention the likelihood that they would make this highly controversial
partnership more palatable to the Pakistani public and political opposition.
Pakistan's government has indeed taken the risky political path to pursue
responsible policy, and so must Washington. President Obama needs to be
the statesman, and leverage his credentials as the one who authorized the
successful raid on Osama bin Laden's compound to invest in a peace partnership
with Pakistan, and not shy off for fear of Republican attacks, even for an
apology for the Salala killings.
Meanwhile, given the political, security and financial realities, Afghanistan's future will realistically be determined by a four-way engagement, involving Afghan political leaders, the Taliban, Pakistan and the United States. It would be both unwise and counter-productive for Pakistan to stay on the margins, particularly now that Pakistani and American interests converge in Afghanistan.
Considering the typical framing of Pakistan's popular- and political-level foreign policy debates, the opening of NATO supply routes and Pakistan's participation in the Chicago summit may in some circles be interpreted as damaging to Pakistan's security interests, undermining national pride, and working against the wishes of the people of Pakistan. However, it is important to be clear where the interest of the people lies within the context of foreign and security policy. It lies in creating security and socio-economic conditions within which governments can fulfill their Constitutional responsibilities towards the people. Hence, the government should make decisions that promote internal security, economic prosperity, social development, and the defense and dignity of the country. This is where the people's relevance is key. The public's sentiments cannot dictate decisions on whether NATO supply routes should be shut or open; governments must decide -- and take responsibility. In Pakistan, like in many other countries, the people's sentiments have often been part of a circular political strategy: institutions opposing civilian policies fed their views to a segment of the public, and were then played back as peoples' sentiments.
But another interesting question within Pakistan's domestic context is, how valid is criticism of the parliamentary process that presented terms for the re-set of Pakistan-U.S. relations? Many argue that policy-making is an executive function, and thus handing this task to the parliament was misguided. On one hand, the parliament's involvement on a key foreign policy issue that has been discussed and debated for three decades was necessary to get a general consensus. On the other hand, the criticism that the issue dragged on for too long is valid. The long drawn-out process triggered the law of diminishing returns to some extent, a fact that Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman continuously raised with the Pakistani government.
Washington was almost in awe of the process, and began
recognizing its own mistakes, including unilateral drone attacks, its hesitation
to re-negotiate the terms of NATO supply routes, and blocking the release of
the Coalition Support Funds (CSF). And when the U.S. was ready to make an
apology, Pakistan suggested it be held back until the parliamentary process
ended. A senior White House official and the Pakistani ambassador jointly
announced an agreement to release the withheld CSF, but the parliamentary
process dragged on, and talks on the NATO supply routes were not resumed.
With the deadlock on the supply routes now broken, Pakistan will take a seat at an important global policy reflection and discussion forum on Afghanistan and the region. And, provided that seat is wisely utilized, Pakistan will have also promoted its own security and economic interests -- just as it is doing in opening up trade and conflict resolution dialogue with India. Fortunately, as PML-N President and leading opposition politician Nawaz Sharif repeatedly says, there is national consensus at least on these landmark policy moves.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan labourers take part in the construction of a bridge at Barikowt, in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province on April 3, 2009.
‘No matter how high the mountain, there is a road to the top' (Afghan proverb)
In Afghanistan, bridges are important. They link families separated by Afghanistan's often mountainous terrain, enable farmers to bring crops to market, and allow everyone - from traders to teachers - to move about more securely.
Last month, as Afghanistan's newly appointed Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, I handed over more than twenty completed projects - including a 460ft bridge and a university community center - to the people of Kapisa province in northeast Afghanistan. The bridge alone will benefit more than 70,000 people.
What relevance does this have for America, especially given longstanding concerns about the reasons for engaging in Afghanistan, the human and financial costs of doing so, and continuing apprehension about plans for transition, and Afghanistan's future stability and prospects?
Well, despite the regular diet of negative news about Afghanistan as we approach the drawdown of international - primarily American - military forces, I believe significant and sustained developmental progress is being achieved.
You might think, that as a government minister, I would say that. But the evidence is compelling.
My ministry manages five nationwide programs. Last year alone they provided direct technical support and funding to villages and districts in every one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces to help meet community-owned, locally agreed development plans. Rural roads and bridges helped connect two million people; access to clean water and sanitation reached two million more. And we helped almost 60,000 people, a third of them women, launch savings groups that will go on to create small and medium-sized businesses. Our work helps reintegrate former insurgents into communities as productive members of society, supporting stabilization efforts by our civilian and military partners. It is long running and life changing.
The major human development indicators are now moving in the right direction - for example, on the number of children in school, or levels of child and maternal mortality - but after thirty years of conflict Afghanistan has started from very low baselines. There is much more to do.
Afghans are increasingly taking responsibility for security and service provision. Under the third tranche of the Inteqal, or transition process, approximately 75% of the population will have seen security responsibilities pass to Afghan forces. That process is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014 but, as we know, it is not without its risks.
The years from transition to 2025 are already being termed a period of ‘transformation,' in which Afghanistan moves from heavy dependence on international donors to a state better able to pay its own way in the world, and make its own decisions. Support from the United States and the rest of the international community has been essential to fostering economic growth, social development, and stronger governance, enabling the Afghan government to begin providing support to 38,000 communities in over three hundred districts throughout 34 provinces.
Even in insecure areas, we have devised innovative mechanisms to deliver critically needed assistance, because development can and does address the root causes of conflict. Reducing poverty removes local grievances that can lead to tacit support for violence. Investing in education and training helps Afghanistan's young men and women find meaningful jobs. For farmers - and four out of five Afghans have a direct involvement with agriculture - promoting alternative, legal ways of generating income, instead of poppy cultivation, reduces insecurity and corruption.
A number of sectoral initiatives - National Priority Programs - are currently being finalized in partnership with international donors. The Tokyo Conference this July will look at those programs, including how they translate into long-term financial support. Discussions will not be easy: a decade more is needed before Afghanistan's economy can generate a substantial proportion of its own budget needs, and the global economic crisis has changed the donor landscape.
In the run-up to Tokyo, there is much the U.S. can do. I believe the Obama administration and Congress should look at a comprehensive package of support:
Now is not a time to cut and run. We know that post-conflict stabilization and development requires decades to complete, but we are a long way from becoming a ‘failed state.' The real and sustainable progress made so far has been achieved at great human and financial cost: the United States' continued commitment to our long-term development will be vital in bringing about a secure, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan.
Wais Ahmad Barmak, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development in the Afghan Government, is currently visiting the United States.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
As Sunday's spectacular attack in Kabul showed, the war in Afghanistan may be winding down in Washington, but it is heating up on the ground with spring's arrival.
And in Foggy Bottom and, to a lesser degree, on Capitol Hill, a battle is on for American hearts and minds even as calls for immediate withdrawal grow louder. The objective: to keep Afghan women from falling off the political agenda while Washington and its NATO allies hunt desperately for a diplomatic solution to America's longest-ever war. As the NATO summit in Chicago approaches - and women to date still have no formal role - that fight gets more urgent.
"Any peace that is attempted to be made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all," said Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at a luncheon for the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council, an organization started under President George W. Bush to support programs benefiting Afghan women. "We will continue to stand with and work closely with Afghan women. And we will be working closely with the international community as well, because we all need to be vigilant and disciplined in our support and in our refusal to accept the erosion of women's rights and freedoms."
Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed the Secretary's comments.
"The failure to protect women's rights and to ensure their security could undermine the significant gains Afghan women have achieved," said Mrs. Bush. "No one wants to see Afghanistan's progress reversed or its people returned to the perilous circumstances that marked the Taliban's rule."
Clinton, Bush and their allies face an uphill fight. Today a record-high 69 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. And the recent alleged killing of unarmed Afghan civilians by an American soldier has cemented public desire to call an end to the war that began just after the attacks of September 11.
It wasn't always this way. In 2001, Washington leaders regularly invoked the plight of women, who had just endured years of Taliban rule that barred them from school and work. Afghan women became something of a cause célèbre worldwide, and the return of women to public life was seen as among the most positive byproducts of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Then-First Lady Laura Bush spoke out in support of Afghan women during a weekly presidential radio broadcast in 2001, and made high-profile visits to women's projects while visiting the country.
A decade later, members of Mrs. Bush's team acknowledge the challenge they face convincing the American public that supporting Afghan women on the way out of the country matters.
"It is hard for people to see the endgame and that is what I think contributes to the frustration," says Mrs. Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. "This is not high on the radar screen because it is challenging and the solution seems so far away."
Those working closely with Sec. Clinton acknowledge the battle to keep women front and center is not easy. But they say they see an increased acknowledgment throughout the State Department and in the president's recent executive order on U.N. Resolution 1325 that women matter when it comes to peace.
"While clearly there is a strong, strong desire for the end of this (war), the big concern is the state of the women -- what happens to Afghan women and that they not somehow be forgotten," says Ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. "There is a recognition that for the genuine end of conflict and for the ability to reconcile with whomever it is possible to reconcile with, that the women have to be a part of that."
Those who have spoken out about the need to end the war swiftly say they agree.
"I came away strongly feeling that as we do draw down there that we have to retain a focus on these gains and whatever is necessary diplomatically or through our aid, that we can't neglect women," says Rep. Niki Tsongas of a recent trip to Afghanistan. "You have to publicly continue to raise the issue. That is the very least what we can continue to do, to publicly raise the issue and the importance of just trying to protect and secure those gains."
did just that at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing with Gen. John
"The question is, as we draw down from Afghanistan over the next several years, what can we do to make sure that we don't lose the hard-fought gains for the rights of Afghan women, 50 percent of the population? And what, if any, leverage will we have as we go through this process and after our withdrawal is complete?" she asked.
But is more than rhetorical support from those who support Afghan women's progress even possible?
"It is difficult, because I think that even for those who care very deeply about the status of Afghan women there is a little bit of schizophrenia, because I think some of us recognize that whatever the future is for Afghan women, the kind of military footprint that we have in Afghanistan can't go on another decade," says Rep. Donna Edwards, who co-chairs the Afghan Women's Task Force in Congress. "I believe that it is possible for us to construct a strategy where we make those kinds of civilian investments that will enable investments where it is possible to support women entrepreneurs, to support women in education, to support women as parliamentarians, I think it is possible to do that and I don't think we have too many more options left."
So what do the women at the center of all the discussion think of all the discussion of their future? Most say they simply want to be part of the conversation about their own country, particularly as they work to elbow their way into the discussions in Chicago next month. And they want to know what, exactly, leaders of the international community means when they say to women that "we will not abandon you," as Sec. Clinton has repeatedly.
women are no more the priority for the world, that is true," says Samira Hamidi
of the Afghan Women's Network. "The
international community is in a rush for withdrawal, but at the same time they
keep repeating and pushing the theme that we will remain with you."
Hamidi says women want clarity on what, exactly, those assurances mean. Says Hamidi, "in ten years whatever has happened for women is because of the struggle and participation of women. We are still fighting for our rights, for our inclusion, to be part of decisions and to be decision makers."
What Hamidi and other women leaders say they seek are assurances that any Taliban negotiations will keep in tact the Afghan constitution of the past decade, with its guarantee of equal opportunities, including the right to work and go to school, as well as a set-aside of a quarter of parliamentary seats for women. More than two million Afghan girls are now in school, with thousands in university, and civil society leaders want them to stay there. Women also want to be at the table, not outside the room, in any diplomatic discussions that will decide their country's future shape. That starts with Chicago next month.
Women say they are not asking for favors, but to be part of their own societies. They can speak up for themselves, and they are, but they could use the backing of big-dollar international donors who will be funding their government's security forces for years to come.
"The worrying part for me in 2014 is not that the international community is leaving -- troops are leaving, they have to leave this is a reality. We can't expect them to stay in Afghanistan for years and years, but for me what is important is how powerful our own security forces will be in 2014, how responsive they will be to women's needs. Those are things that the international community can really make their funding conditional on."
Those who support Afghan women say that if the world wants to see any progress achieved in Afghanistan continue, it will support civil society leaders like Hamidi - between now and 2014, and beyond.
"Increasingly, across the board, people get the fact that this is pragmatic, that you can't get from here to there on the items all of us want to see [in Afghanistan] without women," Verveer says. "Is it a guarantee? Well, we can't write the future. None of us knows exactly what is going to happen. We are dealing with a hypothetical and the best we can all do is to make sure that everything is in place as best as it can be as this continues to go forward."
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.
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Talking about talks with the Taliban may still be all the rage in Washington, but in Kabul the silence has been deafening. Ever since Mullah Omar's Quetta Shura said last month that it was suspending its "pointless" dialogue with the United States, the Afghan capital has been bracing for the worst. Spring is traditionally the start of the fighting season in Afghanistan, and confusion around reports last week of a failed suicide attack plot at the Ministry of Defense headquarters have set Kabul on edge. Whatever tune the White House is singing these days, Afghans know talk of war and peace is as cyclical as it is seasonal.
This became all the more clear last week after the European representative for the armed faction of Hizb-e Islami, the group led by former Afghan prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also called off talks with the U.S. Hizb-e Islami's about-face only a few months after the group sent a delegation to Kabul in December to meet with U.S., NATO, and Afghan officials comes as little surprise to those familiar with Hekmatyar's protean power plays. The one-time warlord from Kunduz has been playing cat and mouse with Washington and Kabul for years. As the International Crisis Group pointed out in a recent report on political settlement in Afghanistan, Hizb-e Islami's proposed 15-point peace plan sounded good on paper when it was first presented last year, but persistent internal rivalries within Hizb-e Islami doomed the scheme from the outset.
Negotiations with insurgent groups stand little chance of success without more vigorous and structured support from the international community. The debacles of the last couple months have amply demonstrated that neither Kabul nor Washington is likely to be in a position in the near term to strike a deal on their own with the Taliban or Hizb-e Islami. With NATO's withdrawal now only about two years away there is a real risk that security will further deteriorate, especially as political competition among Afghan elites becomes more heated -- and possibly more violent -- ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. The United Nations will effectively be tasked with filling the void left by the departing international troops. A lasting peace accord that guarantees that the achievements of the last decade are not reversed will require the U.N. to undertake structured negotiations and to appoint a team of mutually agreeable mediators.
The challenges facing the U.S. and Afghan efforts at peace negotiations were, of course, predictable and possibly even avoidable. But President Hamid Karzai, despite his impassioned calls at the National Consultative Peace Jirga two years ago for "upset brothers" in the insurgency to lay their arms and adhere to the constitution, has adopted a policy of passive-aggressive resistance to calls for reconciliation. If he's not firing angry salvos at Doha or Washington one day, the next he's galloping off to Saudi Arabia like an Afghan Don Quixote in search of a peace neither he nor his government have demonstrated any genuine interest in pursuing. Although the Afghan government has of late shown a little more chutzpah in its foreign policy and domestic dealings, it is doubtful that it would take any action at all if it wasn't under so much pressure from Washington.
The Karzai administration has, meanwhile, cleverly inveigled the international community into funding the $784 million Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program (APRP), in the hopes of convincing low-level insurgent fighters to lay down their arms. So far, a little more than 3,000 fighters have signed up for the program, which offers insurgents a small stipend for three months, and a chance to get taken off ISAF's capture/kill list. According to ISAF officials, there is also a proposal on the table under the rubric of the program to pay so-called big name commanders $1000 a month to cool their heels.
But, the vast majority of those who've signed on to the program are non-Pashtuns in the north -- hardly a ringing endorsement for the success of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign in the south. Then again, no one should be surprised that APRP hasn't emerged as a panacea. After all, all that has been on offer is a fistful of dollars, a flimsy paper guarantee of security and an invitation to once again live life on the margins, where there is no assurance and little evidence that the Afghan government will protect its citizens.
None of this points to a swift or tidy end to the conflict. The U.S. and NATO are not going to single-handedly extinguish insurgent safe havens in Pakistan, bring peace to the Pashtun belt and clean up corruption in Kabul while playing "Let's Make A Deal" with the Taliban. Traditional powerbrokers associated with the Northern Alliance are poised to make sure that doesn't happen and there is no shortage of potential spoilers among regional actors such as Iran. A deal with the Taliban alone will never be enough to secure the peace in Afghanistan. It will take much more than talks about talks to arrive at a political settlement.
The rhetoric around reconciliation must be backed up by real and sustained action by the international community. The 9/11 attacks had global implications; they were not just a singular event in American history. Negotiations aren't likely to amount to much until the United States gets over its allergy to U.N. intervention in what are perceived to be strictly American affairs. The U.S. will require just as much help from the Security Council in ending its military engagement in Afghanistan in 2014 as it did with starting it in 2001. No matter how badly the U.S. and NATO want out of Afghanistan, a "responsible end" to the war will warrant sustained support from the international community for many years to come.
Candace Rondeaux is based in Kabul and is the senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Afghanistan.
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Deep in reverence, over 1,800 turban-clad young clerics with flowing beards were packed into every inch of the huge lecture hall at the Darul Uloom Haqqania -- the oldest and largest Islamic seminary in Pakistan. The graduating students were listening raptly, absorbing the final lecture of the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) by the chief cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, in pin-drop silence.
After addressing the assembly of students in Pashtu, Maulana Haq, who also heads a religio-political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-Sami group), met groups of visiting Taliban in private before sitting down to speak with me. Haq's close relationship with the Taliban, and role educating many of its key figures, including the group's leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has earned him the nickname "Father of the Taliban."
"There's no other way but to have meaningful talks with Taliban," Maulana Haq authoritatively declared when we talked recently at his residence adjacent to the seminary, which boasts over 8,000 regular students. The madrassah is regarded as the most prestigious seminary and center of the Taliban movement. It is located in the town of Akora Khattak, about 60 miles from Islamabad, and its alumni include Mullah Mohammed Omar, insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani (his last name denotes his time spent at the madrassa).
While Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have repeatedly denied having engaged in talks with the United States or the Pakistani government, Maulana Haq, who freely admits supporting various Taliban groups including the Haqqani Network, emphasized the necessity of holding talks with the insurgents in order to establish regional peace.
Talks are needed now, more than ever, as the jihadist scene along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has moved far beyond the Haqqani Network and the ‘Mujahideen Shura of North Waziristan' -- a conglomerate of al-Qaeda-linked firebrands of various nationalities associated with the Taliban - to become the "North Waziristan Militants Complex".
"If the talks fail," septuagenarian Maulana Haq said, "Then the solution would be jihad -- that would be a public uprising against the Pakistani rulers and America."
During the war in Afghanistan, NATO forces have made several controversial incursions into Pakistani territory near the border with Afghanistan. Maulana Haq, who also heads an organization named ‘The Defense of Pakistan Council' warned, "If America steps into Pakistan, the war would escalate and the U.S. will be trapped in it."
That said, one reason why the United States has avoided placing the entire Haqqani Network on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is likely because the Haqqanis can still be a viable group to talk about a future broad-based national government in Afghanistan, local analysts believe. American allegations of a relationship between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani state also complicate efforts to designate the group, as such an effort would likely require the United States to also designate Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.
A mediator role for the Haqqanis would suit both Pakistan and the United States, as the United States moves towards its planned 2014 departure from Afghanistan. However, what seem to worry the U.S. about this option are the elements that continue to endanger U.S. interests in the region. While U.S. drone strikes attempt to wipe out al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas, American officials feel not enough is being done by the continuing Pakistani Army operation in the same region.
Additionally, engaging the Taliban in dialogue is difficult as there is no one "Taliban" movement, but many, in addition to numerous affiliated militant and criminal networks operating on both sides of the Durand Line. However, this does not mean that it would be easy to deal with the groups separately, or pursue a "divide and conquer" strategy.
"The Taliban can't afford to detach from the Haqqani Network," said Maulana Hamidul Haq, a former legislator and son of Maulana Samiul Haq. "In fact, Taliban leaders consider the Haqqani Network as their patrons," he added, emphasizing that "the Haqqani Network can play an important role in talks with Taliban, as both Haqqani and Taliban are one."
Local analysts believe that the trick is not just to consolidate talks with Taliban hardliners at various levels, but to break the ice with those who might be brought around by Pakistani negotiators -- such as members of the security establishment -- who understand the militants and their movement best.
Certainly, some groups of militants and criminal elements are unlikely to be reconciled through negotiations. However, gaining locals' confidence in North Waziristan and across Pakistan would be the key to strengthening the Pakistani military's hands. It would help alleviate several major headaches, including the band of thugs safely operating their businesses under the Taliban franchise in North Waziristan and elsewhere. The Punjabi Taliban is one such element, and has become not only a painful liability, but also a serious threat to Pakistan's national security.
Secondly, these talks would assist in countering the likely spate of terrorism that would occur after a massive operation against militants is launched in the so-far insurmountable North Waziristan -- no matter who executes it, Pakistan or the United States.
And third, the document endorsed by many Pakistani political and religious leaders during the All Parties Conference (APC) in September further guaranteed the Pakistani public's support for all actions of the military, which has undergone a successful image building exercise at home.
If soaring inflation, fumbled governance, and unbridled terrorism reflects the administrative failure of the elected government at home, it also presents an opportunity for the Pakistani military to step in and find a solution with the Taliban. This would create a win-win situation for both domestic politics and for Pakistan's sinking relationship with the United States.
Maulana Hamid also had a suggestion for the United States. In order to alleviate the complex nature of coordinating talks with an active insurgent group, "Americans should talk to genuine religious leaders and get the governments out from in-between." American officials must ultimately adopt a similar course of action to that proposed here for the Pakistanis, in order to protect its long terms interests in the region, and facilitate an end to a conflict that straddles borders and interweaves two nations' strategic goals.Syed Moazzam Hashmi is an Islamabad-based political and security analyst, a senior journalist, and former Political Affairs Advisor to the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi, Pakistan.
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For years, Pakistani governments and its military have publicly opposed U.S. drone strikes carried out within Pakistani territory. Only last week, Pakistan's Parliament demanded an end to drone strikes that violate Pakistan's "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity" And why should they not be infuriated? By most estimates drone strikes are alleged to have killed at least a few hundred innocent Pakistani civilians, including children as young as eight, and injured over a thousand others.
This begs the question: why, despite all the noise about sovereignty in the eight years since the first drone strike in 2004, have two successive Pakistani governments, military and civilian, failed to hire a single lawyer to challenge drone strikes within the United Nations, a foreign court or even a local Pakistani court? To be sure, the government could argue that it is not completely ineffective against the drone attacks: it did recently close Shamsi air base to protest against the NATO strikes that killed Pakistani soldiers. It could also provide a few superficial defenses to justify inaction: Pakistan is a poor country and therefore cannot afford to engage international lawyers or organizations or that any such action will be futile in the face of U.S. hegemony. However, neither alibi can withstand scrutiny.
Pakistan has routinely employed resources on international legal matters when there is political will to do so. In 1999, Pakistan submitted a dispute to the International Court of Justice against India regarding an airspace incident. In 2009, Pakistan proposed a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council to prevent "defamation of religion" or blasphemy. Last year, Pakistan sought to engage the International Court of Justice in another dispute against India concerning water rights. And Pakistan, over the years, has invested significant resources to highlight the Kashmir problem at the U.N.
In fact, the Pakistani government does not even need to expend much money to raise the issue of drone strikes. A number of Pakistani lawyers are well versed in international law. Lawyers often take up cases pro bono and submit amicus briefs in support of a country's case without charge. In fact, international human rights NGO's working with local Pakistani lawyers; most notably, the British charity Reprieve, has been providing legal representation to civilian victims and commenced litigation against the British Foreign Secretary for assisting drone strikes.
Similarly, the argument that international legal discourse would be futile in constraining use of force by a superpower is equally unpersuasive. Any minimally competent government knows how international law can be utilized to decisively engage in "lawfare", that is to challenge stronger opponents on the basis of legal argument. In fact, the detainee scandal at Abu Ghraib is a perfect example of how law and the media was used by civil libertarians and human rights groups to embarrass an administration that appeared otherwise unconstrained in absolute pursuit of national security. In fact, history is replete with examples of powerful states being persuaded to abandon uses of force even against their unambiguous self-interest. At the turn of the 20th century, "gunboat diplomacy" was frequently used by European powers to compel sovereign debt repayments from Latin American debtor states. However, through the efforts of individuals such as Luis Drago and Elihu Root in the Second Hague Peace Conference, these same powers agreed to discourage force as a means to recover debt payments even though this had hitherto proven itself a convenient mechanism.
Paradoxically, there appears to have been more meaningful discourse and criticism concerning the legality of U.S. drone strikes within American academia and policy circles in days than there has been in almost eight years in Pakistan's corridors of power.
The point here is not that the U.S. would immediately halt drone strikes if the Pakistani government challenged it through international law. It would most likely not. Over time, however, legal action would undoubtedly mobilize debate at the U.N., and most definitely reduce the near unlimited autonomy that the U.S. enjoys at present - targeting decisions may need to be better explained, evidentiary standards may need to be clearly determined, compensation may need to be provided to victims and so on. Such accountability would even provide valuable information to U.S. citizens concerned about the actions of their executive branch when it acts under a cloak of secrecy to target U.S. citizens such as Anwar al-Awlaki.
It is possible that if such discourse were instigated, Pakistan may in due course decide that some drone strikes are beneficial because they do not result in civilian deaths, as the U.S. often claims, and therefore should be permitted. The goal is not to achieve an "either-or" outcome that permits or disallows drone strikes absolutely. Instead, it is to make such uses of force subject to a clearly articulated, transparent, and democratic framework that promotes accountability as to the legal and evidentiary basis on which each strike is carried out, so as to minimize loss to innocent life and property.
However, the utter lack of any Pakistani legal challenge whatsoever ensures that the United States need not worry. Successive U.S. administrations can continue to assert the rather simple Thucydidean justification of using force in another state's territory half-way across the world whenever such a state is "unable or unwilling" to suppress harm to the U.S in self-defense, regardless of the costs this may impose on the targeted state's citizens. And why should it not? Its political responsibility is limited to the national security of its territory, not to Pakistanis and for all intents and purposes, there are grounds to believe that Pakistani leaders have not only consented to, but encouraged such strikes.
As it stands, because these drone strikes kill people in regions that provide no political or economic capital to the Pakistan elite residing in cities, the government can well afford to engage in cheap talk on national sovereignty whilst doing nothing to uphold that sovereignty. Although Imran Khan promises change, for now, the Pakistani government quietly dodges its sovereign responsibility to protect its citizens and territory.
Dawood Ismail Ahmed is a Pakistani lawyer and doctoral candidate in international law at the University of Chicago. He is also a research associate at the Center on Law and Globalization.
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After ten years of war and countless lives lost, the tragic murder of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier has focused renewed attention on the abundant flaws of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Coupled with the recent deadly riots in Afghanistan over the burning of Qurans by U.S. service members -- and the retaliatory killing of U.S. advisors by Afghan forces -- these events place the failure of U.S. strategy in stark relief. The relationship with the Karzai government, America's nominal ally, is frayed and torn. The Taliban, while bloodied, remain resilient and unbroken by the U.S. military surge. Lastly, the American people have made clear they want U.S. troops to come home sooner than the already announced end of combat operations in 2013 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops by 2014.
If ever there was a time to accelerate the process of ending the fighting in Afghanistan and spurring nascent political negotiations it is right now. For this reason, the United States should not wait a year and a half to begin the process of disengagement, but rather take immediate steps to end the war in Afghanistan now.
This would not mean accelerated and precipitous troop withdrawals.
Instead, it means dramatically curtailing offensive military operations against the Taliban including the ever controversial night raids; initiating and negotiating local cease fires with Taliban insurgents; and, more broadly, adopting a defensive posture by identifying key terrain that must be held by the Afghan government and limiting military operations to the defense of such critical areas. This could mean ceding territory to the Taliban, but it wouldn't be the first time the United States has taken such an approach. These steps would be consistent with a responsible strategy for transition, which must be predicated on a realistic assessment of those parts of the country can be kept under Afghan governmental control after the U.S. departs.
It also means completing the transfer of Taliban detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to the custody of Qatari authorities, who are now hosting a Taliban liaison office in Doha. Above all, it means ensuring that the stated policy of pursuing a political settlement with the Taliban finally be integrated with U.S. military policy.
Calibrating the use of force in such a fashion would represent a good faith measure toward building confidence and seeking a political resolution with the Taliban insurgency for ending the war in Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban's recent suspension of talks through its liaison office in Doha, a political settlement remains the only possible path to an orderly U.S. withdrawal, and to stability in Afghanistan. If the United States is not willing to expend political capital to nurture and further the process, the prospect for a negotiated settlement will collapse.
It has been said countless times that NATO cannot kill its way out of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, this is precisely the current U.S. strategy -- and it is one that will likely ramp up with the traditional spring fighting season that begins soon. While the Obama administration has begun exploratory talks with the Taliban, it is the larger military effort that remains the dominant U.S. frame for the conflict.
Yet, the physical fight hardly promises much in the way of sustainable gains, and is arguably nothing more than tactical noise. Ironically, continued kinetic operations in Afghanistan, particularly the targeted killings of mid-level commanders, will undermine the prospects for a political settlement. Mullah Omar still retains considerable moral authority among the disparate groups that comprise the insurgency. But, as recent strains make clear, the longer the fighting goes on, the greater likelihood that the insurgency will become more fragmented and radicalized, and less amenable to heeding the directives of the Taliban's central leadership.
In reality, little of Afghanistan's future will be determined by current U.S. military operations - and they may in fact be counter-productive. So why then should Americans or Afghans continue to die needlessly?
The rationale for a dramatic adjustment in U.S. policy is not simply driven by anti-war fervor, but rather a belief that measures geared toward spurring a political settlement are in the best long-term interests of the Afghan people, regional stability and the United States.
If the last two years have shown us anything it is that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily at a reasonable cost, especially when the insurgency can consistently regenerate itself and launch attacks from the safety of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
To be sure, a political process is fraught with risk and is far from assured of success. Still, it is the only viable approach for bringing bloodshed in Afghanistan to an end, and averting a potentially bloody civil war after the lion's share of U.S. troops have returned home.
While there are still some signs of division among the insurgency, there are also multiple indications of interest among senior members of the Taliban to engage in political talks, including Mullah Omar's ‘Eid statement in August 2011 acknowledging contacts with the United States, a series of exploratory talks with the United States and other intermediaries, and the public announcement of the establishment of a liaison office in Qatar for the purpose of negotiations. Indeed, the Taliban leadership has publicly recognized the legitimacy of pursuing their goals via non-military means -- and have made that case to their rank and file. Quite simply, it is no longer credible to argue that there is nothing to talk about with the Taliban or that the U.S. lacks a potential interlocutor among the insurgency.
The question for the United States is not whether the Taliban wants to talk; it's how the U.S. can increase the chances for success.
And it's not as if the Taliban are confused about immediate U.S. intentions. The President has made clear that the US is leaving Afghanistan in 2014 (as stated at the Lisbon Conference), and in recent weeks Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that U.S. combat operations will end by the middle of 2013. Everyone in the region understands that the U.S. presence will significantly decline in the next 18 months. So why delay the inevitable? A break in fighting would allow all sides to more clearly explore the options for peace.
Critics will argue that a respite in the fighting would give the Taliban a clear military advantage, but there is another alternative -- that serious olive branches to the Taliban will force them to clarify their political intentions and will strengthen their ability to bring along the recalcitrant fighters in their ranks.
If the Taliban use a break in combat operations to ramp up their attacks on U.S. and Afghan government targets and/or shun the reconciliation process it will make clear their lack of interest in a political settlement.
This would inform the current discussions regarding a strategic partnership agreement (SPA) between the United States and Afghanistan. While current negotiations between the Karzai government and the United States over a reduced long-term military presence are proceeding slowly -- but with some signs of progress -- these talks would be clarified by a clearer understanding of the Taliban's intentions. The discussions around the SPA would provide the Taliban with a decision point -- if they want to rid their country completely of the "foreign occupier" then they will have to address this issue at the negotiating table, and by countenancing their own concessions. This would include, obviously, a public break with al-Qaeda, and a verifiable pledge that the terrorist organization will never again find shelter in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban view this proposed new U.S. military position as an opportunity to ramp up operations, the Afghan government will be more inclined to ensure that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will endure past 2014, albeit in reduced form. Under this scenario, the current military stalemate will be maintained, and with continued international support from the United States, chances of a Taliban takeover will continue to remain remote. From this standpoint the SPA serves as a hedge and a critical tool of leverage for the United States vis-à-vis the Taliban -- by putting the ball squarely in the insurgents' court.
In the end, the United States has nothing to lose by taking these steps in the pursuit of peace. Tactical gains in the near-term will not be decisive. But taking chances for peace and a long-term political settlement might just stop the war, put the region on the path to stability and above all, end the bloodletting in Afghanistan.
Michael Cohen and Michael Wahid Hanna are fellows at The Century Foundation.
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After a long wait following a request from a joint session of the Pakistani parliament in May 2011, the Pakistani parliamentary committee looking to reset relations with the United States has come out with its recommendations. The Pakistan National Assembly begins debate on this issue today and will likely continue discussions for the next three days. No major surprises in the report's recommendations. In a decision that seems guided by domestic politics, the report and its current "debate" in the parliament will not produce better understanding among the people of Pakistan of what their country's policy is toward the United States or what it should be. Rather, it seems destined for a marginal adjustment of issues that have bedeviled this tenuous "friendship" for years.
Pakistan seeks to stop drone attacks, renegotiate the terms under which the US and coalition troops can be supplied through the currently closed Ground Lines of Communications (GLOC) into Afghanistan and simplify the means of reimbursing Pakistan for deploying its troops in the border region. It also draws red lines regarding boots on the ground in Pakistan (translation: no more Osama Bin Laden-type raids). Underlying all these demands is the desire for mutual respect and understanding, beginning with an apology or a reasonable facsimile thereof from the United States for the attacks on Pakistani border posts. But is there a Plan B? As parliament convenes next week to "debate" this issue, we shall see what Pakistan really wants and what is attainable.
All this comes at a time when the coalition is preparing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan faces the prospect of an unruly Afghanistan with its negative spillover effects: millions of new refugees if fighting breaks out in Afghanistan, and the scary prospect for Pakistan of reverse sanctuary for Pakistani Taliban and other anti-state actors. The Air Lines of Communication that allowed the coalition to continue to prosecute the war, though at much higher costs, remained open. Not a word on those from Pakistan, or the United States. Codependency seems to be working, to some extent.
The parliamentary review is a good sign of putting a civilian face on decision making in Pakistan, though the script may well have come from the military, as many suspect. But the review is silent on a number of issues. There is no word on why the Pakistani authorities, both civil and military, were mum for nearly a decade on the drone issue; in fact they abetted and encouraged them, according to Wikileaks, among other sources. There is also no word on why the government of President General Pervez Musharraf failed to get written agreement on the understandings reached with the United States after 9/11 and hastily accepted a reimbursement scheme to receive Coalition Support Funds that made the Pakistani military an army for hire, on a marginal cost basis.
The basic assumptions of this "deal" were faulty. They seem to have miscalculated the length of the expected conflict, its effects on the tribesmen of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (resulting from the birth of the Tehreek-e-Taliban of Pakistan), and the real costs of the ensuing fighting for the Pakistani military and civil population. Now, after 36,000 deaths, along with the degradation of infrastructure, arms, equipment, and morale, Pakistan is seeking just recompense. Too little, too late. Even if they get the enhanced prices in the final stages of the Afghan conflict, the amounts will not adequately cover the real costs of the war to Pakistan, estimated at more than $60 billion. Who is going to be held accountable inside Pakistan for these miscalculations?
Pakistan is also missing an opportunity to cancel the CSF, something it should have done years ago, and replace it with a written agreement on U.S. military aid rather than a cash-for-services program that apparently became a bad habit the military leadership could not shed, until the U.S. Congress and Administration made it a weapon to castigate and penalize Pakistan. Pakistan never had the capacity to track and account for the detailed expenditures that the United States needs to justify payments. Why continue down that rocky path?
What if the hard line positions captured by the committee's laundry list of demands fail to get immediate satisfaction? Who then will be responsible for Pakistan's next move? Will it be the civilian government, the military, or parliament, the shield behind which the government seeks to hide most of the time? Pakistan does not seem to have a viable Plan B, unless its recent thaw with India becomes a permanent shift. China is a friend but will not go to the wall in a fight against the United States. Indeed, it has sought to work with the United States in the Middle East and Central Asia. The United States does not have a Plan B either.
Ideally, to keep the relationship going, the U.S. would need to work out some kind of joint approach to drone targets, using the Border Coordination Centers perhaps as a means of insulating targeting decisions from others in the Pakistani chain of command, and thus avoiding the past embarrassment of leaked information to targets. So long as fighting continues in Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine the United States giving up on drone attacks entirely. Pakistan will want greater controls on ground lines of communication. In addition to seeking additional payments to cover its real costs, it will need to regulate the traffic to avoid jams in its port and at the borders.
In other words, the transactional relationship becomes more tightly regulated. But the U.S. development approach to Pakistan also needs a huge shift, toward longer-term development projects and short-term efforts to win hearts and minds. Borrowing from the British playbook might be a good idea. Finally, and over time, the United States must end its primary focus on the military-to-military relationship, and make it subordinate to the political relationship with the government of Pakistan and a direct relationship with Pakistani civil society. That is what President Barack Obama promised in his December 2009 speech. Now he must deliver.
Don't expect miraculous results from this review or its demands. Election fever is upon us in the United States. President Obama is in a difficult position on whether to accept wholesale the Pakistani demands. Whatever he concedes gives fodder to his opponents on the Hill and on the campaign trail. Inside Pakistan, an election may also be looming. The rising nationalistic forces of anti-Americanism will excoriate any politician who makes deals with the United States. Yet, a conflict between these two difficult allies is not what is needed in the volatile region at this time. It will take cool heads on both sides to emerge with reputations and egos unscathed. It is said that in Washington people eschew a Plan B since it very soon becomes Plan A. The same may be true of Pakistan. But both sides need that Plan B today, or they will risk the turmoil of the counterfactual. Time for a rapid rethink on both sides on how to move forward. Tardiness spells failure.
Shuja Nawaz is Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its army, and the wars within (Oxford 2008/9).
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