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
In his compelling account in Foreign Policy of his time working for the Obama administration, Vali Nasr portrays his boss, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, as an energetic and skillful diplomat whose efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban were systematically undermined and sidelined by a White House more concerned about domestic politics and more persuaded by the Pentagon's strategy of sending more troops than a strategy of "patient, credible diplomacy". According to Nasr, Holbrooke died literally with the secret to ending the Afghan war on his lips, unheard by Barack Obama, "the president who did not have the time to listen."
It is to Holbrooke's credit as a leader and as a man that someone as passionate and eloquent as Nasr has taken the task of defending his legacy. But is he persuasive? In reading his article, I often found myself drawing exactly the opposite conclusion than he did from the same anecdote. For example, he vents his frustration at Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who he says obstructed Holbrooke because Lute "thought he knew Afghanistan better". But since Lute had been covering Afghanistan in the National Security Council since 2007 and had previously served there, he probably did know Afghanistan better than Holbrooke, who was only appointed in 2009. Here, it would be just as easy to perceive Holbrooke as a blowhard, than as the beleaguered victim of a turf war the Nasr portrays. When Nasr describes the "internet start-up" dynamic of Holbrooke's office, with its "constant flow of new ideas, like how to cut corruption and absenteeism among the Afghan police by using mobile banking and cell phones to pay salaries; how to use text messaging to raise money for refugees; or how to stop the Taliban from shutting down mobile-phone networks by putting cell towers on military bases," a reasonable person could be excused for seeing in this frenzied creativity a lack of focus and a dissipation of energy that might be fatal to a complex diplomatic endeavor, rather than the laboratory of the solution to Afghan stability that Nasr implies.
For Nasr, Holbrooke had the diplomatic solution to the Afghan war, but he was actively undermined by the administration in pursuing it. My problem with this thesis is that there was an area where Holbrooke did have carte blanche to use his diplomacy, and in my view he used it rather badly. That area was the 2009 Afghan presidential election.
In 2009, I was the Special Assistant to Kai Eide, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). I already had some experience in the Afghanistan. I had first visited Afghanistan in 1994 for a French NGO. I returned in 1995, when I spent a year running a humanitarian project for the same NGO, and returned again in the summer of 1997 to do research. From 2001 to 2011, I worked almost exclusively on Afghanistan for the UN, and had been part of the UN team that set up the 2004 elections. By 2009, when I went to Kabul to work for Eide, I had some knowledge of the country, its recent history, and its elections.
Before meeting Holbrooke, I knew of him only by his reputation: he had negotiated Dayton, he was close to Hilary Clinton, he had visited Afghanistan several times, he thought outside of the box, and he attracted talented staff-all of these qualities that Nasr describes very well. In sum, I had an open mind and I looked forward to what his reputed talents might bring to the Afghan imbroglio, which was becoming increasingly complex as the presidential election approached. We knew that 2009 would be a complicated year and the various parts of the international community in Afghanistan would have to work closely together to get through the election in particular.
It was therefore surprising, in terms of the US-UN relationship, that shortly after his appointment Holbrooke made disparaging public remarks about Eide's leadership at the annual Munich security conference. Eide, who read them in the press in Kabul, complained immediately to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Advisor Jim Jones (with whom he had excellent relationships). They passed them on to Clinton who apparently spoke to Holbrooke. A phone call was set up between Eide and Holbrooke to smooth the waters, but it ended very badly, with the conversation heating quickly and both men hanging up on each other.
A few days later Holbrooke came to Kabul. Holbrooke clearly had no intention to "reset" his relationship with Eide. His first comment on meeting Eide was, "When does your contract expire?" As an observer, I tried to discern the logic in Holbrooke's antagonism. It only made sense, I thought, if Holbrooke was sure he would be able to get rid of Eide, which is what we suspected that he wanted. But until he achieved that, why wouldn't he try work with Eide? After all, Eide had a trustful relationship with Karzai, close relations with most of the cabinet, and was in charge of a formal mandate to support the upcoming presidential election. According to Nasr, Holbrooke practiced "the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies." What I witnessed was an impatience and lack of respect that alienated allies.
When I look back, it strikes me that Holbrooke didn't really have a plan to get rid of Eide. Instead he substituted his will for a strategy, then acted as if he had already accomplished what he had sought when he clearly had not. By doing so, he sidelined allies without removing his enemies.
Never mind the failed removal of Eide, what about Karzai? Holbrooke gave every impression that he wanted to use the 2009 election to unseat Karzai. Holbrooke's second question to Eide during that breakfast meeting was who he thought would be a viable alternative to Karzai. (Eide chose not to respond.)The method he selected was to persuade a number of prominent Afghan politicians to run against the incumbent. This strategy became an open secret and a running joke among politicians in Kabul. In his book about his time in Afghanistan, Eide recounts meeting then-Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud at a social event. Eide asked how he was and Massoud responded that he was lonely. "I must be the only person in Kabul whom Holbrooke has not invited to challenge Karzai for the presidency," he said.
Holbrooke's decision to encourage a variety of candidates to run was undoubtedly motivated by Afghanistan's two-round electoral system, which requires a candidate to win 50% of the votes in the first round, or the top two vote-getters face of in a second round. Holbrooke surely calculated that a large number of first round candidates would be likely to siphon votes from Karzai, making it more difficult to reach 50%. This was good as far as the political arithmetic went, but it missed several factors that were critical to the Afghan context. First, potential Karzai opponents wanted to be the candidate blessed by America-they wanted to be Queened by America, not to be a pawn among pawns in a grander U.S. strategy to bring Karzai below 50%. Pawns, after all are easily sacrificed once they've fulfilled their purpose. And once these candidates realized that Holbrooke was making the same deals with rivals, some of the more serious ones dropped out. Second, Holbrooke underestimated Karzai's real strength. Just because he didn't like him, and just because many Afghans were clearly frustrated with their president, didn't mean that they wouldn't vote for him in the end.
Again, as with his antagonism toward Eide, I was left wondering whether Holbrooke had a plan, a strategy based on a serious reading of ground truths with options for action based on different scenarios. Or was this like the cell phone towers and the text messaging for refugees-just part of the constant flow of new ideas?
Once it was clear that Karzai would get the most votes, the objective changed: instead of getting rid of Karzai, it became desirable for Karzai to not win the first round, and go to a run-off instead. Two days after the election, Holbrooke, then-U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and a few advisors came to breakfast at Eide's Kabul residence. The discussion was mostly about how to plan for the release of the election results, the need to avoid statements that were not founded in actual facts, and so forth. Everyone agreed that no public comment should be made until the official results were out. Holbrooke, nonetheless, argued that given the fraud, the election had to go to a second round to ensure the legitimacy of Karzai's win. Eide warned him not to raise that with Karzai, whom Holbrooke was scheduled to see later that day. "You have to understand that he sees you as someone trying to get rid of him," Eide cautioned. Holbrooke dismissed the warnings with a joke. He and Karzai were the best of friends now, he said.
But during his lunch with Karzai, Holbrooke ignored Eide's advice and mentioned the need for a second round. Karzai was understandably apoplectic. Most of the votes were still being counted. Hardly any preliminary results had come in. Yet Holbrooke was already dictating what outcome would be legitimate and what would not. This seriously damaged an already patchy relationship. An election needs winners and losers, but if it is to serve its political purpose, an election cannot be a means of humiliation.
This controversy was soon overshadowed by what became the real story of the election, the massive fraud that had taken place, which as Sarah Chayes pointed out in her article on Nasr's piece , was dismissed by Holbrooke in the run-up to the elections. While the fraud prevention measures set in place by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had failed, the detection measures had worked. What remained were the mitigation measures. Getting them to work was an incredibly painful process that required much negotiation, cajoling, pressure, and creativity on the part of the international community working with the electoral institutions, some that were more cooperative than others.
The four month-crisis that followed the election began with a courageous order from the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to reinstate the fraud triggers it had suspended-in other words, to set aside the votes that were deemed to be tainted by fraud. Weeks of negotiations were spent to get the IEC and the ECC to agree to the terms of an audit of the fraudulent votes. Then both campaigns had to be convinced, and the audit's methodology painstakingly explained and defended. When the audit was completed, and the results showed Karzai was below 50%, it took several weeks for Karzai to be convinced that the audit was correct. Every day brought winter closer, and the time in which a second round could be held became shorter. The role of the international community in the audit was crucial, as was its role in keeping the main parties engaged in the process. Eide, in particular, played a central role, and was even able to broker a meeting between Karzai and his primary challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to see if, face-to-face, they could find a solution (they couldn't). But Holbrooke's actions had taken away or dulled many of the tools needed to solve the crisis. Eide's credibility was badly damaged by his public disputewith Peter Galbraith over how to handle the electoral crisis (Holbrooke had pressured the UN Secretary-General to appoint Galbraith, an old friend, as Eide's deputy a few months before). The U.S. embassy in Kabul had been undermined by Holbrooke's positions. The entire international community was under suspicion by Karzai.
I remember when the crisis finally reached its resolution. I was sitting with Eide and Tom Lynch, a member of the UN election team, in Eide's residence. He was waiting for a former Taliban to arrive for a meeting. Just before his visitor was due to arrive, Eide received a phone call from Eikenberry. "Come to my residence immediately. I think we have news." Eide did not want to stand up the Taliban, so he told Lynch and me to represent him. Eikenberry was there, along with the French and British ambassadors and a few embassy aides, waiting expectedly.
But the person who walked into the room a few moments later, saying that after several long nights of negotiation he had convinced Karzai to accept the second round, was not Holbrooke. It was John Kerry. Senator Kerry, while visiting Kabul that week, had managed to earn Karzai's trust. Karzai asked him to extend his stay while the negotiations over the elections continued. Kerry had become an accidental diplomat, but he played his unexpected role with great skill. Holbrooke, the professional diplomat, had spent all his powder in the early stages of the game. I have no idea where he was when the great Afghan electoral crisis of 2009 was finally resolved, but he was nowhere near the action in Kabul.
It is not surprising that, in his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr focuses on reconciliation - a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. This was the great "what if?" In his defense of Holbrooke, Nasr writes that Holbrooke, just before his death, had "found a way out that just might work", but refused to tell his wife "until he told the president first". Then, of course, he died, taking his McGuffin with him. This is amateur movie plotting, not political analysis.
Obama is a convenient scapegoat for the failed reconciliation effort, and on that Nasr makes a strong case. But there is no scapegoat for Holbrooke's election strategy. Nobody in the White House or the military stood in his way. It was his strategy, which he designed and implemented, on which he took forceful decisions. And yet the end result was to contribute to creating a crisis whose effects still linger. Every time a member of the international community raises with Karzai a legitimate measure that might ensure a better 2014 election, Karzai mentions Holbrooke, and everyone backs off.
Nasr's Holbrooke was a champion of diplomacy. I would argue that his significant talents were less those of diplomacy, and more those of a gifted translator of American power. Diplomacy requires the navigation of hostilities, the building of alliances, and the seeking of leverage. It is more than a pro-consul-like projection of power, even if that power is projected with intelligence and stubbornness, and appears to achieve results. Both the cynical and the serious definitions of diplomacy emphasize the need to often convince actors to act against what they perceive as their best interest, either by deceit (Sir Henry Wotton: "a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country"), distraction (Will Rogers: "diplomacy is saying ‘nice doggy' until you find a rock"), or deception (Daniele Vare: "diplomacy is the art of letting the other party have things your way"). All of these involve subtlety, calculation, strategic clarity, and the husbanding of alliances. Those were the skills called for during the 2009 election. In Holbrooke's way of operating throughout that event, I saw something closer to the opposite of those skills.
The pity is that, if America is indeed weakening-which is Nasr's larger thesis-it will need much more classical diplomacy and much less Holbrookean bluster. But as long as Holbrooke is held up as the model American diplomat, our foreign policy will seem increasingly like empty thunder, and then we'll know what weakness really means.
Scott Smith has covered Afghanistan for many years with the United Nations, including as a special assistant to the head of the U.N. mission there in 2009 and 2010, and is the author of Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Peacekeeping, Politics and the 2004 Presidential Elections. He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia's School for International Public Affairs. The views expressed here are his own.
As the Obama administration seeks to "responsibly withdraw" from Afghanistan by 2014, it must also retool its policy toward a more strategically important, nuclear-armed, and volatile Pakistan. Given U.S. engagement and leverage with Pakistan will only further decline, and its current single digit approval rating in Pakistan, it needs all the help it can get to contain a hydra of militant groups from tearing Pakistan apart or triggering a war with India. To the extent that external actors have a role to play in Pakistan's internal stability - the onus, after all, lies with its own leadership - the United States might find the most unlikely of partners in Pakistan's northern neighbor and "all-weather friend:" China.
Sino-Pakistan relations have consisted of four phases. After diplomatic ties were established in 1951, relations cooled as Pakistan sided with the United States against seating China in the United Nations. The 1962 Sino-Indian war and 1963 Sino-Pak boundary agreement cemented ties against a common adversary; China became and remains a vital source of military and nuclear technology for Pakistan. In the late eighties, a thaw in Sino-Indian ties - trade between the two rising economic giants is now six times that between China and Pakistan - and the spread of militancy into China's restive Xinjiang region from Pakistan diluted the relationship. Since 9/11, Chinese concerns about Pakistan's stability have only deepened with attacks on some of the 13,000 Chinese workers living in Pakistan.
Three lessons for the United States emerge from this narrative.
First, while China remains committed to Pakistan, especially to balance India, its position on Indo-Pak relations has shifted. From threatening intervention in the 1965 Indo-Pak war to former President Jiang Zemin urging the Pakistani Parliament to put Kashmir on the back burner and focus on development in the nineties, to the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister engaging in unprecedented shuttle diplomacy following the 2008 Mumbai attacks that nearly brought both sides to war, China is emerging as a key crisis-manager in South Asia - in large part to maintain regional stability for its own economic growth.
Second, despite these shifts, China retains a high favorability rating in Pakistan at 90%. Underpinning this credibility is China's perceived unstinting support vis a vis India and economic assistance, generally in the form of soft loans with no grating conditionalities, that have resulted in a range of prominent infrastructure and defense-related projects in Pakistan.
Third, China is increasingly focused westward. Since 2000, China's "Go West" policy has sought to tackle underdevelopment in its vast western regions, including Xinjiang. Pakistan can potentially provide an outbound route for goods from Xinjiang and an inbound maritime route through its struggling Gwadar port for an increasingly Persian Gulf-oil dependent China. Similarly, an influential essay titled "Marching West" making the rounds in China's policy circles argues for expanding ties with China's western neighbors. In contrast to a tense Pacific, China's west, the essay contends, is also fertile ground for Sino-U.S. cooperation, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Given China's potential crisis-manager role in South Asia, its standing in Pakistan, and its concerns about militancy therein, China and U.S. interests seem to converge. This runs askance of the "string of pearls" theory that views Pakistan as a central element in China's evolving grand strategy in the Indian Ocean, potentially to U.S. detriment. Consider, however, the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030 report. In one of four scenarios for the future of geopolitics it outlines, the optimal one is a "fusion" of Sino-U.S. interests - sparked by their jointly defusing a looming war between Pakistan and India.
Operationalizing this convergence will not be easy. The Chinese have less reason to press Pakistan on militancy given its forthcoming assistance in clamping down on the group of greatest concern to Beijing: the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Here, the United States must flag to the Chinese the risk of "mission creep" by other more sophisticated militant groups based in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Taiba, a lethal terrorist group that has primarily targeted India, has also noted the mistreatment of Chinese Muslims in its manifesto, "Why We Wage Jihad." On Indo-Pak relations, China's role is complicated by its balancing strategy; border tensions with India; and Pakistan having ceded a portion of the disputed Kashmir territory to China in their 1963 boundary agreement over Indian objections, technically making China a party to the Kashmir dispute. Indeed, India strongly opposes Chinese involvement in South Asia, including a mere reference to U.S.-China cooperation in the region in a 2009 joint statement. However, its view might change if it perceived China to be playing a stabilizing role.
Despite a crowded agenda, the United States and China must think boldly at the highest levels about their strategic convergence in Pakistan. The administration should encourage Beijing to host the next meeting of the Friends of a Democratic Pakistan - revitalizing the group and widening China's role as a stakeholder in Pakistan. The process of putting together and hosting the meeting may nudge Beijing to more broadly assess its interests and exposure in Pakistan as U.S. engagement in the region scales back. Additionally, both sides should quietly consider a crisis-management and coordination mechanism on Pakistan - one that will require the State Department to think across traditionally siloed regional Bureaus.
A final lesson from history: citing Pakistan's pivotal backchannel role in the normalization of Sino-US relations, Premier Zhou En Lai subsequently remarked to Henry Kissinger that "the bridge that helped them cross (the divide)" must not be forgotten. As the Obama administration scales back in South Asia and rebalances to the Asia-Pacific, navigating new chasms with a rising China, Pakistan might yet again serve as a bridge.
Ziad Haider is an attorney at White & Case LLP and Co-Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the US Department of Justice and a national security aide in the US Senate. Follow him on Twitter: @Asia_Hand.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. In just the past month, members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council visited Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani officials, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Kabul to sign an agreement on border security, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool visited Islamabad for talks, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels to discuss their cooperation on counterterrorism in the region.
However, a deeper look at Pakistan's recent behavior reveals that these events may represent more of a change of tactics than a change of mind. Admittedly, the ethnic divisions, widespread corruption, and weak central government that plague Afghanistan also have Pakistan worried about a failing government in its backyard. It is possible that a focus strategic depth really has been overpowered by this looming threat. But it is more likely that the government of Pakistan still clings to the long-held strategic depth objectives, while choosing now to take a more indirect approach to reaching it.
With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan looming, Pakistani officials now say they just want to be recognized and given a seat at the negotiation table with the Taliban and other Afghan factions.
But at the same time, of course, Pakistan also still wants to minimize India's presence and restrict its increasing influence in Afghanistan in the future. Since the 1960s, when the doctrine of "strategic depth" was first developed, Pakistan -- both right and wrongly -- has been obsessed with addressing its paranoia of Indian-Afghan encirclement. The Pakistani government now seems to be downplaying the security-centric goal of strategic depth, though this should not be taken to mean that Pakistan has abandoned this ultimate aim.
"The post-withdrawal Afghanistan should not be an enemy, if it is not going to be a friend," says a diplomatic source referring to the strategic depth doctrine of Pakistan's security establishment.
There are reasons behind this apparent change in tactics. Pakistani policy makers have now come to believe, with a heavy heart, that a Taliban-led regime like the one before 2001 in Afghanistan is an unrealistic dream.
Persistent U.S. drone strikes, with or without the consent of the Pakistani government, have forced Pakistan to come to terms with the reality that modern technology has now replaced the conventional means of hot pursuit, and it is far easier for the United States or other powers to target their enemies without sending ground troops.
And, the United States has adopted silence over the sticky issue of asking Pakistan to conduct military operations against the dreaded Haqqanis in North Waziristan, while the hardliners in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Pakistan have gone into hibernation and adopted silence over drone attacks.
To give credence to the impression of shedding the strategic depth policy, Pakistan recently freed several Taliban prisoners, while another batch, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has reportedly established contacts with the Afghan government, may also be freed shortly if the United States agrees.
Now, the Pakistani side seems to be confronted with two key questions regarding stability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Although Pakistan has been persuaded through the ‘carrot and stick' approach not to be a spoiler if it is not going to buttress the peace process, policy makers in Islamabad are weighing their options in a divided Afghanistan, not geographically but on ethnic and factional basis.
In the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled south, Haqqanis leading in the south-east, and the rest of Afghanistan under the non-Pashtuns -- led by ethnic Tajiks. In this scenario, Pakistan will get a secured border even though the government in Kabul remains hostile (in other words pro-India).
In this way, Pakistan will not only ensure its influence in the strategically important southeastern part of Afghanistan, but could also push the TTP and other Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Kashmir-focused jihadis, into the Haqqani- and Taliban- controlled parts of Afghanistan.
Before 2001, the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups had established bases and training camps in the areas that Pakistan expects to come under the influence of Haqqanis in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Those regions could house sleeper cells of Kashmiri fighters, whom Pakistan could later use as a balancing factor in case of Indian support for Baloch independence-seekers.
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, however, in a December 18, 2012 interview with the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said they would never accept a divided Afghanistan. Quoting the Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid, AIP said "we will not allow anyone to implement methods of disintegration in Afghanistan." The spokesman added that their ‘jihad' was meant for full control of the country rather than struggling for a particular part or chunk of land.
Informed sources told this writer that during recent negotiations, both the U.S. and Afghan sides assured their Pakistani counterparts that due consideration would be given to their concerns about the future Afghan government and the Indian role.
"Now Pakistan's response is wait and see. The Pakistani side has placed some concerns and conditions on the table and watching what is being picked and what is left by the Americans and the Afghan side," said a parliamentarian involved with a few round of meetings.
"The recent Taliban release was Pakistan's goodwill gesture. The next step will be taken when the Pakistani side sees some ‘positive' development," added the lawmaker. A number of observers in Islamabad are of the view that the release of Mullah Baradar is that ‘next step,' which will be taken after the desired ‘progress'.
The other important decision for Pakistan is the role it will play with regard to the TTP and other militant groups after 2014. On December 4, 2012, a senior provincial official told the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet that "we should not expect an end to the ongoing Taliban attacks in Pakistan with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan." The provincial government has limited options: it can either accept the Taliban by holding talks with them and attempting to bring them into mainstream politics with a give-and-take approach, or it can try to root them out with the use of force.
However, the thinking in Islamabad is somewhat optimistic. It is believed that the Haqqanis will return to areas under their influence in eastern Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while their local allies and the pro-Pakistan militants led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar will either merge in the tribal society or join their brothers in arms across the border.
And as and when needed, they could be used by Pakistan to browbeat the Indians and the government in Kabul, or keep the Pashtun nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in check. In the past few years, the nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have frequently been the target of Taliban attacks.
As for the TTP, it is believed that the group will lose its moral ground for fighting against the Pakistani government and security forces once international forces leave Afghanistan. The number of their sympathizers will drop which will affect their recruitment, training and missions. The rest will be done through decapitation of the leading figures to shatter its organizational structure.
However, this is the most simplistic view of the TTP, which has humbled the Pakistani security establishment by launching daring attacks in high security zones all over the country with the help of its al-Qaeda, IMU and sectarian allies. Besides, the mishandling of the word Jihad, either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of the country's security establishment, has created a Taliban mindset in the new generation who could be easily provoked in the name of religion - thanks to the weakening economy, poor governance and justice system, rampant corruption and non-availability of social services.
Unfortunately, neither the democratically elected government, nor the powerful military establishment has so far hinted at any strategy for de-radicalization. Instead, policy makers, as usual, are obsessed with their external relations and reputations. With no rational approach on how to deal with the post-withdrawal militancy scenario, the scourge of radicalism and terrorism will continue to haunt both Afghanistan and Pakistan even if we assume for a while a successful withdrawal and peaceful handover of authority in Afghanistan.
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.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
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.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
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.
The July 31 U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for ambassadors-designate Richard Olson (for Pakistan) and James Cunningham (for Afghanistan) exemplified the contradictory nature of U.S. relations with Pakistan. The foreign policies of the two countries are at irreconcilable cross purposes, which may converge in time, but not in the foreseeable future.
At the outset of the hearing, John Kerry, the committee's chairman, acknowledged that Pakistanis have suffered greatly in the fight against terror, and also underlined that "Pakistan remains central to what happens in Afghanistan." Ambassador-designate Richard Olson echoed Kerry's remarks, saying, "I don't have to tell you how important Pakistan is to the United States."
Later, Olson responded positively when asked about Pakistan military's doctrine of "strategic depth" (a concept in which Pakistan uses Afghanistan as an instrument of strategic security in ongoing tensions with India by attempting to control Afghanistan as a pawn for its own political purposes).
"My sense is that the Pakistani military and Pakistani government has moved away from [strategic depth]," the ambassador argued, probably drawing cues from Pakistan's gradually expanding dialogue with arch-rival India. Most of the Western skepticism of Pakistan's role in Afghanistan has been embedded in distrust of the so-called doctrine of strategic depth, a dynamic which outside observers have been reluctant to acknowledge is changing for the better.
However, Ambassador Olson also reaffirmed the United States' concern about the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, describing it as "one of the toughest challenges that the U.S. faces." Olson's characterization only reaffirms the long-held view that the Haqqanis must remain a priority of the U.S. security establishment for their part in several deadly suicide bombings in and around Kabul since 2008. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill requiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to report to Congress on whether the Haqqani Network should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, and if not, why.
But according to a recent New York Times report, based on one senior American official's estimate, Haqqani operations account for one-tenth of the attacks on ISAF troops, and perhaps 15 percent of casualties.
The NYT quoted a senior Obama administration official as saying "I am not convinced there is a command-and-control relationship between the ISI and those attacks." Yet the storm gathering around the Haqqani Network, believed to be holed up in North Waziristan as a protective umbrella for al-Qaeda Central, betrays the American security establishment's unease with the group. It also points to a future course of action in which Americans may zero in on the Haqqanis as the single largest source of instability in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Network is credited with just about ten percent of the total attacks on U.S. and ISAF forces.
And herein lies Pakistan's predicament; its ties with some non-state actors, such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, as well as the India-focused Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), undermine its foreign relations.
These groups sit at the heart of Pakistan's rocky relationship with the United States, Afghanistan and India. The former two view the Haqqani Network as the biggest impediment to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The latter considers Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that staged multiple deadly attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, to be an existential threat.
But as far the Pakistani security establishment is concerned, these militant groups have long served as valuable foreign policy instruments. And since Islamabad's Afghanistan policy is not contingent upon America's desired endgame in the war-torn country, declaring a total divorce from these outfits seems improbable under the current circumstances.
This raises the possibility of these groups periodically rocking the Pakistan-U.S. alliance through terror strikes. This begs the question: can the United States -- and India in particular -- decouple their dialogue with Pakistan from terrorist strikes attributed to the Haqqanis or Lashkar-e-Taiba?
Probably not. And this constitutes the basis for the difficulties ahead; unless both Washington and New Delhi can see visible signs of "change of mind" in Islamabad and Rawalpindi (where the military establishment is headquartered), they will keep prompting Pakistan to safeguard their "security interests" by disassociating with the Haqqanis and Lashkar-e-Taiba, ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan in whatever way possible, thereby disallowing the creation of a true U.S.-Pakistan alliance.
That is why former ambassador Husain Haqqani advises both Pakistan and the United States to focus on being friends rather than "allies" because "deviating national [security] interests" run contrary to the basics of an alliance. The focus, he said, should be more on trade, engagement among civil society groups and politicians. In Amb. Haqqani's opinion, creating economic and civil society linkages promises greater security than a security partnership that has consistently been characterized by mutual suspicion and distrust.
Pressures stemming from domestic politics -- the upcoming Presidential election in the United States this November, and the political turmoil in anticipation of a general election in Pakistan later this year -- essentially rule out a quick convergence of two conflicting narratives. A gradual but substantial build-up in mutual trust in the months ahead looks impossible, too; Pakistan is not likely to crack down on the Haqqani Network the way Washington proposes. Nor does Pakistan hold sway over other partners of the Haqqanis, like Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
While foreign expectations that Pakistan might serve as a bridge between this tripodal insurgency and the Kabul regime may not be entirely realistic, it still should not prevent Islamabad from reshaping its national security paradigm in a way so as to earn the trust of the international community. One of the requirements would of course be to alter the nature of its relations with non-state Pakistani and Afghan actors.
Top-most Pakistani civilian and military officials say the change is underway, but it is not, however, going to happen overnight. We must keep our volatile socio-political context in mind, they insist.
History dictates that the United States, while pursuing its long-term geo-political objectives, should openly acknowledge the policy changes in Pakistan, the way ambassador Olson did before the Senate Committee. This will give Islamabad more confidence to continue the policy-fixing -- if not transformation -- path, and thus create space for a more productive engagement.
Officials at Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs insist that this would also mean that unless the United States recognizes the compulsions that geography and the cross-border demography places on Pakistan, and until the country is allowed to fashion relations with countries such as Iran in its own way, the path forward will remain fraught with bickering and disagreements.
Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the forthcoming book Pakistan: Before and After Osama, Roli Books, India.
Pakistan's Deputy Attorney General Khurshid Khan has made news and not everyone is happy about it.
DAG Khurshid Khan became embroiled in controversy when, deeply shaken by the beheading of a Sikh man by the Taliban in Pakistan in 2010, he decided to seek atonement for the sins of the Taliban by cleaning the shoes of Sikh worshippers outside shrines in India and Pakistan. While Sikh leaders and organizations have praised DAG Khan for his actions, Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association did not take such a kindly view of the situation, and issued DAG Khan a show-cause notice asking him to explain his actions. The Bar Association has argued that DAG Khan's actions "defamed" the country, while DAG Khan insists that his actions were only meant to present his religion and country in a positive light, by showing that the Taliban do not represent the views of the whole country.
This is not the first time that Pakistani officials, worried about the country's image in the world, have taken measures to protect that image. One stark example of this was then-President Pervez Musharraf's treatment of Mukhtar Mai, a woman gang-raped in her village Meerwala and subsequently prevented from leaving the country for fear that she would publicize stories of her rape and damage Pakistan's image abroad. Echoing government claims, some journalists at the time also termed Mai's heart-wrenching accounts of her rape as "propaganda against Pakistan." General Musharraf eventually allowed Mai to travel abroad, but only after intense domestic and international pressure.
While Mukhtar Mai's case is an extreme example of an incredibly misguided attempt to protect Pakistan's image abroad, it aptly illustrates how censuring its citizens may not be Pakistan's best shot at protecting its image. DAG Khurshid Khan's case may raise valid questions about the code of conduct appropriate for government officials, but it remains questionable whether the SCBA is doing the country's image any good by taking action against someone who did, at the end of the day, want to show that Pakistanis stand against terrorism, and empathize with the sufferings of Pakistan's religious minorities. Through his service to the Sikh community, DAG Khan only sought to encourage a form of communication between Pakistan's majority Muslim population and other religious communities, an effort that the Bar Association has attempted to halt.
Most strikingly, such efforts to protect Pakistan's image seem bizarre in light of the glaring fact that much of the negative opinion about Pakistan around the world stems from some very real challenges that Pakistan faces: international and domestic terrorism, corruption, poor governance, and human rights violations. Government officials not only unwittingly reinforced these negative perceptions about Pakistan in both the cases of Mukhtar Mai and of DAG Khan, but also completely failed to acknowledge the larger, more significant reasons for the country's negative perception in the world.
If the first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem, Pakistan has yet to really take that step. Pakistani officials and media frequently blame outside forces for Pakistan's misfortunes. Yet, it is crucial for Pakistan to acknowledge the faults and mistakes that have led it to its current quagmire if it is to improve its image. The slow response of the international community to the 2010 floods in Pakistan, partly attributed to Pakistan's negative image in the world, was a tragic reminder that a country's image matters immensely. Recognizing the importance of the way the world sees a nation, Pakistan spends a $100,000 dollars per month, a total of about $1.2 million dollars a year, on American lobbying firms to help improve its image in the United States. Yet, according to a recent BBC poll, it remains one of the most negatively viewed countries in the world, second only to Iran.
Pakistan's failure to improve its image does not only lie in its inability to accept responsibility for and address its problems. Pakistan has also failed to effectively use channels of communication with the outside world, such as movies, literature, art and music, to show a perspective on Pakistan that more closely reflects the way in which Pakistani citizens experience their country. Experiences of painful uncertainty and horror in the face of terrorism, violence, corruption, and state incompetence comingle with very "normal" day-to-day experiences to form a nuanced image of Pakistan in the minds of its citizens. These complicated experiences can best and most eloquently be portrayed through movies, art, literature and music, providing a window into Pakistan to outsiders who may see the country only through a security lens.
Yet the arts are not the only means through which Pakistan can challenge the narrow, security-focused narrative about the country. Allowing Pakistani citizens the freedom to broadcast their experiences to the world, even negative ones, is important in not only encouraging the process of self-reflection but also in allowing outsiders to understand the range of different life-experiences that shape the human landscape of Pakistan. At the very least, a greater understanding of the region will allow the international community to move past black and white generalizations about the "Pakistan problem" and to appreciate the nuances that underpin issues confronting the region. In the long run, this will translate into a more empathetic view of Pakistan, and might help the country's image in the world.
In fact, Pakistan's neighbor, India, has done an excellent job of exploiting such channels of communication to give the world a glimpse into the various facets of life in India. The Indian film industry produces the largest number of movies in the world, with export revenues increasing drastically over the years. The Economist points out the wide influence of Indian movies which are popular not only in countries like the United States, but also in other parts of the world, such as Japan. Anyone who has seen Bollywood films knows how impressive a job it does of portraying different "Indias" - the romanticized India of dancing and singing locals, but also the more somber and serious India of movies like "Rang de Basanti" that explore India's past. India's effective use of these modes of communication is undoubtedly one of the reasons it has maintained a positive image in the world.
Clearly, there are also other reasons for India's pleasant appearance. India has more going for it than Pakistan does, given that India is the world's largest democracy and a rising economic power. On top of that, India is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with hundreds of different languages spoken across the country. Moreover, unlike Pakistan, India's domestic problems have not also posed a threat to countries around the world. All these factors allow India to maintain a positive image, despite the fact that India also shares many of the problems of other developing countries, such as corruption, poor governance, massive poverty and domestic terrorism in the form of a Naxalite-Maoist insurgency. India not only has achievements, it has also managed to capitalize on these achievements through the use of various modes of communication with the rest of the world.
While a country's real problems and achievements essentially define its image in the world, to some extent, image is also a product of what the world even knows about a country. The censorship of both DAG Khan and Mukhtar Mai, although misguided and counter-productive, illustrates Pakistan's attempts to control what the world knows about it. Instead of censuring DAG Khan, Pakistani officials could have used DAG Khan's case as a way to show their stance against terrorism and their empathy for the sufferings of Pakistan's minorities. There is hardly a Pakistani, however removed from Pakistan's troubled tribal areas, who has not felt the consequences in some shape or form of Pakistan's battle against terrorism, and there are many who have suffered the direct destruction and pain that terrorism has brought on the country. It is this pain and sense of loss that DAG Khan sought to express through his service to a religious community that has also suffered at the hands of terrorism. Pakistani officials should celebrate such actions, and see them as a means through which to open channels of communication with other communities and countries. Ultimately, it is the DAG Khans of Pakistan that will help its image.
Fatima Mustafa is a PhD candidate at Boston University researching issues of state-building in the developing world.
NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images
In February 2011, Pakistan and India resumed formal peace talks, which New Delhi had broken off following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Although the peace process has sparked cautious optimism among analysts, all of the core issues between the two countries remain and several new ones may be emerging. Moreover, the wounds of Mumbai have yet to heal fully and can still infect the peace process. This was evident when India took custody of Zabiuddin Ansari, an Indian jihadist who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba and played a pivotal role in those attacks. A previous post employed his story to examine the jihadist threats facing India and the role official Pakistani support is believed to play in them. The aim here is to address the impact, if any, on India-Pakistan relations.
Ansari was arrested by Saudi authorities in May 2011, but handed over to India only days prior to last week's bilateral meeting between the countries' foreign secretaries. Indian officials took pains to make clear that Ansari's capture (specifically) and Pakistan's failure to curb terrorism (in general) would not derail the planned meeting. The two sides did make slow progress on several economic issues and it is arguable that for some time the greatest barriers to action on that front have been internal and bureaucratic rather than geopolitical. This should be cause for cautious optimism. Read another way, however, it is emblematic of the limited expectations for this process, the enormous hurdles to be overcome, the delicate balance each side must strike in terms of how to engage, and the domestic dynamics in each country that further complicate the process.
It's helpful to recall that previous attempts at normalizing relations focused too heavily either on engagements at the bureaucratic level or personal initiatives by political leaders. This current phase has sought to combine both approaches, initially aiming to make parallel progress on economic engagement as well as the more intractable problems of settling Kashmir, demobilizing the Siachen Glacier, or satisfying New Delhi's demands for an end to Pakistani support for anti-India militancy. This approach of de-linking economic engagement from normalization on political and security issues in the short term has merit to the degree that the former can be used to built trust and create space for the peace camps that exist in both countries. But it is not without drawbacks, particularly in terms of the potential for mismatched timing and objectives. To date, the slow progress made has come mainly in the area of economic integration.
The Pakistan Army, which still largely controls foreign policy, remains leery of incremental talks that could enable India, the status quo power in Kashmir, to consolidate an economic relationship without budging on territorial disputes. Moreover, although the government in Pakistan is incredibly enfeebled at the moment, such integration could empower either of the main civilian political parties - the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) - in the event that one of them wins the next election, to wrest at least some power from the military. Nevertheless, given Pakistan's struggling economy, strained relations with the United States and failure of its all-weather ally, China, to ride to the financial rescue, the Army is more prepared than in the past to endorse economic engagement with India.
Yet, various members of the Pakistani security establishment maintain that settling territorial disputes cannot take a backseat to such engagement for too long. Once the United States draws down from Afghanistan, there is likely to be a refocusing within Pakistan's security establishment on its neighbor to the east. In the meantime, and as discussed in the previous post, the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) appear to be attempting to restrain Lashkar-e-Taiba from launching another terrorist spectacular along the lines of Mumbai. However, there is no indication that state support for that group or the indigenous jihadist movement in India has ceased. Lashkar's amir Hafiz Saeed continues to enjoy a public pulpit, from which he has declared the mujahideen will resume a "full-scale armed jihad" in Kashmir once the Afghan war is resolved. And on this most recent visit, Pakistan's foreign secretary made a point of meeting with Kashmiri separatists from the Hurriyat Conference the day prior to engaging with his Indian counterpart in New Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made no secret of his desire for a breakthrough with Pakistan or his desire to accept an invitation to make an official visit to the land of his birth. But he also has acknowledged that, "a visit to Pakistan that does not bear fruit would be of no use," meaning that an agreement on at least one core issue is perceived as necessary in order to make such a trip viable. Resolving a boundary dispute in Sir Creek, located between Singh in Pakistan and Gujarat in India, is arguably the easiest of the core issues to resolve, and the two sides were scheduled to discuss it in May. Shortly before, Pakistan cancelled the talks with no explanation, though the conventional wisdom was that it sought to force progress on Siachen Glacier first. The two sides are further apart on this issue and there is significant opposition within the Indian military, which holds the high ground, to any compromise on it. So it was no surprise when the talks dealing with Siachen in mid-June came to naught.
In lieu of progress on any territorial issues and without much expectation that the Pakistani security establishment will make a significant attempt to dismantle the militant infrastructure, New Delhi is happy to pursue "progress" on issues such as economic integration. As several Indian officials and diplomats sought to make clear to the author, this is not the same as normalization, which they claim can only occur if Pakistan ends its support for jihadist militants who target India. To that end, while pursuing "progress," India also has sought to exert maximum pressure on Pakistan vis-à-vis terrorism.
This approach demands a delicate balance and it is sometimes difficult to determine the degree to which it is carefully calibrated or the result of differing views within the Indian government. Thus, while the Indian external affairs minister was trying to play down the impact of Pakistani inaction against the Mumbai planners and promising the issue would not hold the dialogue hostage, the home minister was holding a press conference in which he proclaimed Ansari's allegations proved Mumbai could not have happened without state support. A month earlier, the Indian home minister, P Chidambaram, declined a Pakistani request to travel to Islamabad to sign a much-awaited liberalized visa agreement as a way of sending the message that Pakistan needed to take action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks.
Ansari has not provided any major new insights into those attacks, but he nevertheless provides India with additional means to pressure Pakistan because of his intimate involvement in planning Mumbai and presence in the control room during the operation. He has reaffirmed much of what was suspected, including the involvement of the same two officers believed to belong to the ISI that David Headley, who conducted reconnaissance for the attacks, identified in his testimony to Indian investigators.
Despite these revelations, Islamabad still insists New Delhi has not provided usable information. Yet, plausible deniability only works as a policy if the denials are in fact plausible. Pakistan's increasingly are not, and its failure to commit fully to prosecuting all of the alleged perpetrators is becoming another major stumbling block to normalizing relations. A conviction of the seven Lashkar members currently on trial is far from certain, and even were it to occur, India has shown no indication that this alone would be an acceptable outcome. New Delhi has said publicly that Pakistani action against all of those involved in the Mumbai attacks - especially Hafiz Saeed and the two aforementioned ISI officers - would be the "biggest confidence-building measure of all." Privately, Indian diplomats go further and assert that this has become a de facto litmus test regarding the Pakistani security establishment's willingness to end its support for Lashkar.
New Delhi has already won its case in the court of public opinion. Unlike in the 1990s, when Washington and New Delhi held politically disparate positions regarding Pakistani support for militancy, today they are united both on their acceptance of the problem and their inability to find a solution to it. Ultimately, two things must happen for Pakistan's behavior to change. First, the real costs - direct and indirect - of supporting groups like Lashkar must be understood to outweigh the (mis)perceived utility they provide geopolitically and domestically. Second, those who already recognize this is the case must take control of the country's security policy.
Bilateral progress between India and Pakistan, even short of a normalization of relations, is an essential component in this regard. It has the potential to bring real economic benefits to people on both sides of the border and in doing so to begin reshaping the environment. But it will remain a slow process and one beset by numerous challenges - foreign and domestic, political and bureaucratic. On its own, Ansari's deportation to India prior to the foreign secretaries meeting was a bump in the road, and the information he provided in the days that followed is unlikely to have taken any of the key players on either side by surprise. This in and of itself, however, is a symptom of just how far the two countries have to go and the way in which new issues, like Mumbai, can make overcoming those that are already difficult to surmount all the more difficult. In the meantime, containing the threat from Pakistani militants will require the type of international coordination, described in the next post, that led to Ansari's capture and deportation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
With the word "sorry," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently opened the door for the United States to continue to supply its forces in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Getting to this word took months of effort on both sides but "sorry" may not be enough to keep the relationship on an even keel for too long. It will need a sustained effort on both sides. The auguries are not good.
Many factors militate against a stable relationship. A lack of clearly defined aims on both sides works against a lasting solution to the mistrust that pervades the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Moreover, there does not appear to be a center of gravity to decision making in either side to lead the building of a lasting relationship. The United States seeks a compliant ally that will help an orderly exit from Afghanistan in the waning days of a difficult conflict, and help guarantee peace and stability after the U.S. and coalition forces leave. Its aims inside Pakistan are unclear, as is the role it wishes Pakistan to play on Afghanistan. Attack the Afghan Taliban or bring them to the table? The US military is focused on getting the Pakistanis to attack the Haqqani Network, for example, while the Department of State is trying to get them to the negotiating table.
Pakistan does not appear to have a clear end goal either. It has a persistent paranoia built on an anti-American historical narrative that influences its leadership and civil society. In their view, the United States is a fickle friend and mercurial master. It comes and goes from the region. And now even its longer term presence in Afghanistan is suspect, since those troops are believed by some to have been designated to take out Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Moreover, the United States is seen cozying up to India, Pakistan's traditional rival to the east, and giving it a greater role in Afghanistan.
Now, that the supply routes to Afghanistan are opening up, and a separate agreement is likely to emerge on compensating Pakistan for its infrastructure damage over the past decade or so, a number of fault lines remain. What will it take to restore balance to this relationship?
First, Pakistan needs to clarify its positive role in the Afghan reconciliation rather than rely on hedging its support while continuing to allow Afghan Taliban to use its territory to attack Afghanistan and coalition forces there. Is its military still betting on a Pakhtun alliance that includes the Haqqani Network to run Afghanistan in the future? North Waziristan, the Haqqani base in Pakistan, has become a magnet for not only Afghan Taliban but also local Pakistani Taliban as well as Punjabi militants who pose a real threat to Pakistan's own stability.
Pakistan could either persuade the Haqqanis to exit North Waziristan and take their war into Afghanistan proper. Or, it can risk a long-promised military offensive that may end up consolidating all the insurgents in that territory, and opening a new front that may extend into the Punjab in the Pakistani hinterland. Pakistan also needs to reach out to non-Pakhtun elements in Afghanistan and help all Afghans create a stable polity and economy after the coalition ceases its major operations in 2014. Otherwise, it risks fomenting fissures inside Afghanistan and creating a reverse sanctuary for its own insurgents on the Afghan side of the border. Without a friendly government in Kabul, it faces the prospect of continued insurgent attacks from across the Durand Line.
For its part, the United States needs to recognize that its unfettered use of drones to attack targets inside Pakistan has knock-on effects inside Pakistan that lead to widespread fear and hatred. Persistent use of drone techno logy has elevated an instrument of war to virtual policy status in the United States. This may be the time to reopen discussions on practicable ways of involving senior Pakistani military officers based in border coordination centers in targeting decisions and rebuilding the intelligence cooperation that netted many al-Qaeda leaders in the past.
The United States must also find better and faster ways of getting its promised Kerry-Lugar-Berman development assistance into the hands of project planners at the provincial level inside Pakistan. In order to do this it will need to invest in helping build Pakistan's intellectual and physical infrastructure, and restore access to energy while enhancing Pakistani textile exports to the United States. There is no silver bullet remedy for Pakistan's problems. The United States must work with Pakistan on a broad front but in a more coordinated manner than before.
Internally, apart from a divided and dysfunctional polity, with the civil, military, and judiciary authorities sniping at each other, Pakistan faces a serious economic challenge. Rampant domestic borrowing, a shattered energy sector, inflation, and a low tax-to-GDP ratio have put it in an economic hole. It will need help from the United States and other allies to garner financial assistance from international financial institutions. Most important, it will need to muster the political will and courage to change the structure of its rentier state economy. Until Pakistan takes the actions necessary to fix its economy, international aid will be hard to get. Pakistan's age-old game is based on the assumption that it is too important to be allowed to fail, so the United States and others will come to its assistance, despite its lack of action on its own behalf. This approach has been nurtured by the US giving in to Pakistani demands in the past and therefore is likely to persist.
Pakistan, like the United States, is in election mode, as the government and other political parties position themselves for a fresh mandate perhaps in early 2013. So, expect no bold decisions. It will take hard work and persistence to mend the misalliance between the United States and Pakistan. How both countries address the issues that constantly threaten their relationship will determine the success or failure of the current rapprochement. Another crisis may well be lurking around the corner.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC.
Afghanistan since the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001 has been subjected to a plethora of high-profile international meetings, occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. It seems that no other conflict-affected developing country has been as "meeting-ized" as Afghanistan. With the Chicago NATO Summit focused on Afghanistan's security recently held in May, the "Heart of Asia" Ministerial Conference in Kabul in June, the Tokyo conference on development in July, and the possibility of follow-up meetings already being discussed, it might be useful to step back and review this experience as has been done in a recent paper.
The current flurry of meetings is occurring in a context of declining international troops and financial resources for Afghanistan, whereas in earlier years the international engagement was being maintained or increased. But the lessons from the past decade's numerous events remain highly relevant. The meetings have been successful in keeping international attention focused on Afghanistan, eliciting financial support, demonstrating inclusiveness and providing a "seat at the table" for all partners, generating good strategic documents, and providing a forum for the Afghan government. However, there have been many problems:
In the future, the effectiveness of these meetings could be increased by: (1) keeping to realistic expectations about what meetings can accomplish; (2) not expecting meetings to substitute for difficult decisions and hard actions; (3) having substantive meeting agendas, avoiding complete co-optation by diplomatic priorities, and maintaining discipline in shaping the agenda; (4) matching meeting objectives with the main issue(s) the meeting is supposed to address; (5) ensuring quality background work for meetings; (6) focusing on key areas and a few simple, monitorable benchmarks; and (7) keeping the number and frequency of meetings manageable.
Turning to the most recent and upcoming meetings, the Chicago NATO Summit on security during May 20-21 did succeed in coming out with a consensus overall figure for the total cost of the Afghan security sector in future years. However, donor pledges fell short of fully covering the international portion of this amount, with some donors not yet being in a position to make pledges. Moreover, beyond the financial cost a whole range of non-financial issues and problems plague Afghanistan's security sector, which pose big question marks for the success of the security transition in coming years.
The recent "Heart of Asia" meeting in Kabul on June 14 well illustrates the limitations of such meetings. It is one of a long series of meetings on regional issues (some focused on regional economic development and trade, others on political and security relationships, still others on border controls and drugs) which have not accomplished a great deal in substantive terms. This latest meeting, a follow-up to the high-profile Istanbul meeting on regional security last November, did bring together the key regional players plus Afghanistan's more distant partners and related international organizations, but it did not seem to generate much in the way of concrete progress. This is not surprising given the geopolitical fault lines and sharply diverging interests and relationships represented at the meeting-ranging from Iran to Russia, India, China, Pakistan, the USA, and others-which make this one of the most difficult parts of the world for achieving real progress on regional cooperation in political, security, or economic dimensions. These realities belie the optimistic pronouncements on Afghanistan as a "land bridge" in Central Asia or the hopes for a "new Silk Road".
Finally, the upcoming Tokyo meeting is intended to set the longer-term development agenda for Afghanistan, with a 10-year time horizon beyond then-i.e. for the "decade of transformation" following the 2011-2014 transition. While taking a longer-term perspective on Afghanistan is important, this soaring rhetoric may distract from the key question of whether the transition will go well enough-politically, economically, and security-wise-that the country will be in a position to achieve rapid development progress post-2014. In addition, based on the experience with past similar high-profile meetings there are a number of issues, a few of which are outlined below:
William Byrd is a visiting senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. He participated in and was involved in the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years. The views expressed here are his own.
The season for Track II initiatives aimed at promoting intra-Afghan political dialogue is gathering steam both inside the country and abroad. Participants at two recent informal gatherings, one in France and the other in Japan, did not issue any statements but, according to sources at the meetings, they opted to discuss pressing items on their political agendas and agreed to meet again in a few months.
The Paris gathering on June 20-21 attended by representatives of the country's main political factions, High Peace Council (HPC), parliamentarians and members of civil society, was organized by the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) and provided strict instructions to all delegates to keep a low profile. The first of such off-the-record meetings organized by FRS was held last November in Paris and was attended by a smaller number of Afghan political actors.
From the loyal Afghan opposition groupings, Yunus Qanooni, Homayun Shah Assefi and Noor-ul-Haq Olumi of the National Coalition (headed by former presidential candidate and Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah), head of the National Front Ahmad Zia Massoud, Hanif Atmar representing the Right and Justice party, and former Interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali were in attendance. There was no representation from two other political aspirants, Ashraf Ghani and Amrullah Saleh.
While no active Taliban member took part in the Paris meeting, several ex-Taliban officials, including Mullah Salam Zaeef - who was also invited to Japan - Abdul Hakim Mujahed and Habibulah Fowzi, as well as Hezb-i Islami Hekmatyar group members Ghairat Baheer and Amin Karim, did attend.
Two sources present at the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that although the Afghan government had decided against sending an official representative to Paris, two individuals with strong ties to President Hamid Karzai, his former campaign manager Haji Deen Mohamad, and Hekmat Karzai, a cousin heading a Kabul-based think tank, offered views at the meeting that did not contradict the president's political thinking.
Nader Naderi, Rida Azimi and Farkhonda Naderi were among the civil society activists and legislators who presented independent viewpoints at the meeting. It is reported that the only non-Afghan to take part was Abdullah Anas, an Algerian-born scholar, who has dealt with Afghan issues since the 1980s, and has been playing a behind-the-scenes mediating role at the behest of the HPC by reaching out to active Taliban.
Over a two day period, delegates mulled over election laws, decentralization and devolution, governance, constitutional reform, regional interference, the NATO pullout and reconciliation. Each side expressed its respective opinion and presented arguments to back their position. There was no agreement or common stance taken over any discussion topics.
The Kyoto meeting on the other hand, organized by the Doshisha University's Graduate School of Global Studies on June 27, was a rare occasion for HPC head Masoom Stanekzai to meet face-to-face with active Taliban representatives. Not only were Hizb-i Islami Hekmatyar representatives invited, but Qari Din Muhammad, a member of the Taliban's political office handling foreign affairs also spoke at the Kyoto conference on peace-building and reconciliation.
In a rare interview with the Asahi Shimbun daily on June 26, Din Mohammad said "we can have dialogue with him [President Karzai] as Afghans if foreign troops leave." He added, "as long as foreign troops remain, it is impossible to have any confidence, to have any dialogue, to have any negotiation with each party in the Karzai administration."
The unprecedented appearance of a Taliban delegate on the global scene, days ahead of the Tokyo conference on Afghan reconstruction assistance, indicates a willingness on their part to raise their international profile. It may also be a prelude to signaling a return to talks with the United States, suspended in March after the killing of civilians by an American soldier.
However, Din Mohammad explained that the talks were suspended after the United States refused the precondition to swap prisoners. Reiterating the militia's policy, he vehemently opposed continued American troop presence beyond 2014.
As the 2014 NATO withdrawal date approaches, and Afghanistan advances toward the complex triple transition processes relating to its political, security and economic sectors, it is becoming evident that there is more at stake than just a military drawdown or evaluating future candidates.
The momentous changes to take place over the next two years are not only a source of concern for most Afghans, but also an opportunity to deal with shortcomings, improve governance, assure a fair and free electoral process and become more self-reliant.
Historically, intra-Afghan talks have led to few tangible outcomes due to destructive outside patronage or inflated egos. However, the willingness of a diverse group of Afghan political actors to agree to have a dialogue, define their priorities, and propose solutions to outstanding challenges as part of Track II initiatives today, is a step in the right direction.
While some parties might show political flexibility and aim for compromise, others might harden their position and act as political spoilers later if talks lead to negotiations. Eventually, confidence-building and moving toward sustainable political coalition-building will be key elements of informal diplomacy and politicking.
A long and heated season of Afghan Track II initiatives are to be expected.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
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
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).
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan history shows that peace is only as wholesome as the interest of the peacemakers involved. In 1988, then-president Mohammad Najibullah tried to present the Geneva Accords -- which were supposed to bring peace after the Soviet war -- as a symbol of national unity, and his administration as a nationalist movement. Instead, the mujahideen were excluded from the peace process, and several government officials, including one of Najibullah's top generals, Abdul Rashid Dostum, were on the verge of switching allegiances. The president's efforts fell short because they were not inclusive, and because Najibullah underestimated the threat posed by elements within his own government. The Accords eventually dissolved into the blur of civil war.
These same mistakes were repeated by the mujahideen when they took power in 1992. Families around the country celebrated when Najibullah's regime fell in 1992, and Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was selected to be the first president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. (My father went so far as to name his new-born grandson after the new president). It was deemed a mujahideen victory, and those associated with Najibullah's regime were at the very least excluded from the new government. Many were forced to flee for their lives.
Unfortunately, the newly achieved peace -- won by force and dealt exclusively amongst the mujahideen victors-- didn't last very long. A civil war soon broke out amongst the same mujahideen factions whose collective victory we had been celebrating.
The exclusiveness of both of these failed peace efforts presents lessons for the peace process today. While they are a central element, talks with the Afghan Taliban are only the tip of the iceberg in a comprehensive, meaningful peace for Afghanistan. There are other groups, equally as essential to a holistic Afghan peace, that must also be included. An Afghan-led approach to the peace process that pragmatically acknowledges the realities of the political scene in Afghanistan and engages all groups with equal scrutiny must be pursued with one common denominator shared by all: Afghanistan's national interest.
Over ten years of foreign intervention, war and power struggle, and with Karzai's final term coming to an end in 2014, each stakeholder in Afghan peace has their own political goals and interests that he believes are worth fighting for. The United States will want to leave with dignity, Karzai will seek to assert Afghan sovereignty and establish his legacy, the Taliban will want to capitalize politically on their gains on the battlefield, and opposition groups will grapple to retain their power as political space is made for the Quetta Shura. But ideologies and political interests aside, realities must be central to this process to avoid past mistakes that resulted in civil war.
For one, despite their controversial policies, the Afghan Taliban is a political group and military force to be reckoned with. Scores of foreign forces have failed to contend militarily with the Taliban to their desired extent for the past decade. In retrospect, the willingness (and now almost eagerness) shown by the U.S. and NATO to reach a political settlement with the Taliban takes us full circle to where we were over 10 years ago -- the U.S., with the assistance of Northern Alliance militias armed with U.S.-supplied weapons and cash, pushed the Taliban from power in Kabul. The Taliban were not reconciled at that crucial point, or allowed any political space, and their ability to revive themselves as a substantial military threat was underestimated.
Now, they have in a sense gained the upper hand in the battlefield, maintaining a stalemate with the Afghan National Army and foreign forces. With the establishment of a shadow government across much of Afghanistan, and plans to open a diplomatic office in Qatar, the reality now is that the Taliban are an Afghan political group. They are bringing that upper hand to the negotiation table. This could not be exhibited better than by their announcement Thursday to suspend the peace talks with the U.S., which shows their ability to take advantage of opportunities to assert their control of the situation.
Secondly, the Taliban are not the only group that needs to be reconciled. The peace process must bring in the Taliban on equal terms, while also leveraging the potentially violent reactions of groups who staunchly oppose any reconciliation with the Taliban. These opposition groups make up mainly ethnic minority groups headed by former Northern Alliance commanders whose militias fought against the Taliban and each other during the civil war. They were heavily supported financially and militarily by the United States in 2001 to oust the Taliban, and today, some fill ministerial and other government positions, arguably bestowed by Karzai as a means of subjugation. Others are regional strongmen with de facto rule in their respective areas.
These are some of the same figureheads who nurtured the civil war in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and achieving some level of power is still in each group's agenda. These groups comprise a viable threat as they are well-armed, financially sound, and many hold positions of power -- positions they will fight to retain as hostility rises at the talk of Taliban negotiations. The former head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Amrullah Saleh, now represents the recently formed United Front in its campaign against the Karzai government and Taliban reconciliation. He was recently quoted in an interview saying, "Fighting is not a very sophisticated path. It's easy. And (so is) recruiting people to fight in this country where unemployment is more than 50 percent. To believe that only one group can fight is naïveté."
These opposition movement leaders have made brazen moves in a bid to gain support in the build-up to talks with the Taliban. Most notably,in January, 2012, they met with four members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Germany in a meeting not condoned by the U.S. State Department, to discuss a controversial agenda that included discussion about how to decentralize power and consolidate the opposition's regional power, a move that would potentially divide the country into north and south. The meeting was condemned by the Afghan government as an unconstitutional move against Afghan national unity, and was an embarrassment for the United States.
Efforts should be made and sustained to reach out not just to the Taliban, but to all groups that have a stake in Afghanistan's political future, hostile or otherwise, on the same level. This includes non-Taliban insurgent groups such as the Haqqani Network and Hizbi-Islami Gulbuddin. An Afghan-led process is the best route to peace in Afghanistan. Though compromised in his ability to lead the peace process due to the U.S. negotiation efforts in Qatar and the denial of the Afghan government by the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid Karzai must strive to be diplomatic and inclusive in consistent efforts to initiate a sincere peace process. His sporadic attitude toward talking to the Taliban -- ranging from support to hesitation - is indicative of his attempts to control the peace process in order to reassert his legacy and sovereignty. Consistency in his efforts to unite all groups and foster an Afghan-led process should be his focus.
However, Karzai's ability to make headway is restricted -- first of all, the U.S. may trump his efforts; and secondly, the Taliban and other opposition groups may refuse his invitations to talk in order to make a political statement showing their rejection of the Afghan government. These factors make it difficult for the peace process to be effectively led by the Afghan government. Karzai should reach out to each group equally, initiating and maintaining unconditional dialogues. Peace is built on a foundation of trust.
In order to include all groups on an equal level and provide a platform for the voices of ordinary Afghan citizens-who are undoubtedly the biggest proponents of peace -- a traditional Loya Jirga could be organized and held by a neutral entity, or a coalition, at a neutral location. The agenda would be pre-set and focused around specific objectives geared toward peace. The organizers and location would need to be neutral to reduce the risk that it would be boycotted by the very groups it would seek to bring in. A national, sincere discussion through traditional Afghan dialogue that places all groups on a level playing field is the country's closest chance to achieve peace. This would be the beginning to a process cleansed of the divisive nature of political manoeuvrings.
If abused by opportunists with divisive political ambitions and interest, the fragile peace process in Afghanistan will result in nothing more than another hollow attempt that precedes yet another civil war - a fear that haunts Afghans. Realities must be accepted by all groups in order to make political space for one another, groups who would otherwise start fighting, or keep fighting, if they are denied. It would be an unfortunate repeat of history if the results of this peace deal do not bring celebrations to every Afghan household, regardless of their background.
Hamdullah Mohib served as a senior aide to Dr. Ashraf Ghani during the 2009 Afghan presidential elections, and is now studying for his PhD at Brunel University.
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2011 was a catastrophic year for U.S.-Pakistan relations. Starting with CIA contractor Raymond Davis's arrest for shooting two Pakistanis dead in January, going on through the raid on Abbottabad in early May that killed Osama bin Laden, and culminating in the NATO forces lethal attack on a Pakistani border post in November 2011, a series of shocks shook this important partnership to its core. Both countries expect their future relationship to be more modest, but neither has defined this concept. As they grapple with this change, U.S. policymakers need to recognize that Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is the big issue, and to develop building blocks for a post-2014 relationship that meets the needs of both countries.
A recent visit to Pakistan provided a sobering view of where the United States now stands. Hostility toward the U.S. government among politicians, elites and the general public are a familiar problem, but two other aspects of today's problem are worth underlining. First, within the government, the biggest problem is with the Pakistan army, traditionally the privileged party when ties with Washington are robust. The army is now going out of its way to showcase an angry response to these humiliating events. The Pakistan government's continuing refusal of visas for many U.S. official visitors, including military officers working on military procurement or aid projects is happening at the army's request (notable exceptions are visitors dealing with F-16 supply or maintenance). Almost all the senior military officers who would normally have attended ceremonial events like the U.S. July 4th reception stayed away in 2011 - clearly on instructions.
Echoes of this resentment can be found on the U.S. side as well. Pakistanis are often quite unaware of the deep anger in the United States over Osama bin Laden's long sojourn in Pakistan. Pakistanis have complained for decades about being taken for granted by the United States; that complaint is now coming from some of the Americans closest to the relationship. Pakistanis wonder why the United States is starting to build a towering and expensive new embassy complex in Islamabad. Americans are now privately asking the same question, and noting that the major defense office in the embassy has shrunk to a third of its former size since the visa freeze.
Against this background, everyone we spoke to in Pakistan believes the broad strategic bond both countries have talked of for the past decade is dead. Few, however, have given much thought to the ingredients of downsized ties. Some, such as Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, reject U.S. economic aid. Others see aid - civilian and in some cases military - as a key element in the future, just as it has been in the past.
The most frequently mentioned theme in our discussions of the likely new look was the need for agreement on the end game in Afghanistan. This end game will indeed drive U.S.-Pakistan relations in the short run, but the United States is likely to achieve little beyond resumption of logistical support.
The hope of a common strategy in Afghanistan is completely unrealistic. The two countries' goals diverge in ways that are too important to sweep under the rug; indeed, that is a major reason why a big strategic partnership is now out of reach. In principle, both want a stable, governable Afghanistan with no continuing ties to al-Qaeda. For Pakistan, however, this remains a secondary priority. The key objective is freezing out Indian influence in Kabul. Pakistanis do not believe President Karzai will be disposed to protect their interests - or strong enough to do so even if he wishes to.
Strategic disagreement also impedes a common U.S.-Pakistan front on negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistanis view U.S.-Taliban discussions with skepticism and cynicism, both feelings now heightened by the fallout from the Koran-burning disaster in Afghanistan and, more recently, the shooting spree of an American soldier near Kandahar. The United States wants Pakistan's cooperation in talking to the Taliban; Pakistan wants to sit in the driver's seat. Even if the talks continue after their current interruption, Pakistan will focus chiefly on maximizing its own influence in Kabul, even if that means a dominant role for Taliban elements that have been at war with the United States. In short, seeking a common strategy for the Afghan end game is likely to leave the United States feeling bruised and Pakistan unsatisfied.
The Pakistani parliament is poised to take up the terms of reference for U.S.-Pakistan relations some time after March 19. The army and the government have apparently agreed to reopen ground transport links to NATO forces in Afghanistan, subject to a higher price tag related more specifically to the amount of transshipment. This would be an important contribution to a modus vivendi on Afghanistan, though it would not prevent the governments from working at cross-purposes on Afghanistan's fundamental political problems. But the rest of the parliamentary package could add new roadblocks, especially if it includes a demand to end drone attacks. The involvement of parliament in this decision is a welcome step toward shared responsibility between civilians and the military, but comes at the price of adding an unpredictable element to decision-making in Pakistan.
This is not a good starting point for a post-2014 relationship that fosters internal stability in Pakistan and healthier regional and international relationships. And yet stability and regional peace are the most important legacy the United States hopes to secure as it winds down its involvement in Afghanistan. To do this, the U.S. needs to cultivate some other building blocks for a more normal but constructive U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
The first is a lower-key diplomatic style. For over half a century, every period of strong U.S.-Pakistan partnership has relied on lofty but ambiguous promises to create the impression of a strategic bond. The U.S. and Pakistan now need less soaring rhetoric and more understanding of their mutual expectations. Where expectations are unrealistic, they need to be pared down through serious consultations. This kind of exercise has often been castigated as a "transactional relationship." Perhaps - but that is not an insult: it is a way to avoid the "jilted lover" syndrome that has afflicted both Islamabad and Washington through over-promising and under-delivering.
This more candid and realistic diplomatic style also includes greater U.S. willingness to listen to Pakistan's articulation of its own needs, and vice versa. The United States needs to be willing to say no when Pakistan's requests are really beyond reach - and to accept no for an answer, even if Pakistan rejects U.S. assistance that Americans think would help it. Above all, hard as it may be, the United States should get out of the business of pleading and finger-wagging. Our system makes it hard to stop issuing report cards - some (like the human rights report) are legally required, others are an inevitable result of Congressional testimony and other demands - but the U.S. should minimize this.
Moving beyond style, the United States should start now to build up three tools. The first is a smaller but better targeted economic aid program. Present aid levels are more than the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations can sustain, and the U.S. administration will have its work cut out preserving even a much smaller program once U.S. forces have left Afghanistan. But both the United States and Pakistan can benefit from concentrating on activities that support the parts of the Pakistan economy that are modernizing.
The U.S. and Pakistan should work out the details in candid consultations. Our suggestions start with infrastructure: irrigation and power generation facilities. This can be done with Pakistanis in the driver's seat, and with due attention to the political dimension of these projects. Such projects have a visibility that U.S. aid programs have all too often lacked. A second suggestion is, for want of a better term, business development: helping Pakistan build up the human capacity and institutions to support a larger and more vibrant small and medium business sector. We believe these would be welcomed in Pakistan despite the rejectionist posture one hears today.
The next tool is building up real business ties between the United States and Pakistan. This should not be in the form of a gift from the U.S. government: businesses make their own investment decisions. Before they invest in Pakistan, they will require a safer environment and above all the example of Pakistani businesses putting their own money into new plants and other facilities in Pakistan. But the U.S. government can lend important support once tentative efforts start. Examples include insurance programs like those of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and pre-investment studies like those funded by the Trade and Development Agency (TDA). The biggest contribution would be extending preferential access to Pakistani textiles - a big stretch in today's environment but something that could be pursued if current tempers quiet down.
The third tool is more political: quiet U.S. support for more stabilizing regional relationships. Discreet encouragement for what India and Pakistan are doing on their own, including the trade opening initiative they are starting to implement, is part of this. But equally important is encouraging a broader set of regional ties. Afghan trade to and through Pakistan; energy linkages, including those involving India and countries in the Gulf; and even allowing the much discussed gas pipeline from Iran to sink or swim on its own commercial merits would all contribute to embedding Pakistan in a set of regional relationships that create greater peace and stability over time.
None of these regional efforts ought to be advertised as a U.S. initiative. It's not about us, it's about creating the infrastructure for a more peaceful and prosperous South Asian region. And none of these proposals will make longstanding U.S.-Pakistan problems vanish by magic. The reason for quietly supporting regional linkages, reinventing a better focused aid program and enhancing commercial ties, is that durable peace in the volatile region from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean is at the heart of U.S. strategic interests. A dysfunctional Pakistan on terrible terms with its neighbors makes this impossible. Even in our eagerness to write the script for the end of our Afghan engagement, regional peace is an edifice worth building.
Teresita Schaffer is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Howard Schaffer teaches at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Both are retired U.S. ambassadors with long experience in South Asia. They are co-directors of http://southasiahand.com.
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Progress with the Afghan reconciliation process, still in "exploratory" mode, and involving a diverse set of actors and conflicting agendas, has been excruciatingly slow and wrapped in uncertainty. Testy exchanges, described as "hard talk" that occurred at an Afghanistan-Pakistan summit a few days ago in Islamabad, are a case in point. What is sorely needed at this stage is a slight pause, to allow for an evaluation and re-think in order to give this highly sensitive process more coherence and a chance to better define the Afghan end-state.
Islamabad's position on the peace talks was revealed when Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, publicly scoffed at an Afghan request to facilitate talks between Kabul and the members of the Taliban Quetta Shura (leadership council). The Afghan side had sought clarification on the whereabouts of Afghan insurgent leaders reported to have disappeared in Pakistan. Khar said it was "preposterous" to think that her government could deliver Taliban leaders to the negotiating table, and warned Kabul against "unrealistic, almost ridiculous expectations" about peace talks.
For its part, Kabul expressed optimism for having detected "a big change among Pakistanis." Sounding enthusiastic, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said "the atmosphere is much better... we are more optimistic than before that they will support us." Karzai himself went a step further and asked the Taliban to engage in direct talks and, once more, urged Pakistan to facilitate negotiation efforts.
A week later, in an about face, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani urged all Afghan rebel groups to take part in peace talks. This amounted to a tacit acknowledgement that the country's civilian government was sending a message to insurgent leaders based in Pakistan, asking that they engage in talks with Kabul.
The Taliban agreed last year to establish an office in Qatar for preliminary talks between the U.S. and Quetta Shura emissaries as part of "confidence-building measures" that aim to secure the release of a handful of top leaders from U.S. custody in Guantanamo, and reduce U.N.-imposed bans on a number of blacklisted commanders in exile. It is not known what type of realistic quid pro quo, if any, is expected of the Taliban within that framework. Karzai, not too keen on the Qatar peace track, has grudgingly endorsed the Taliban office there as an "address," hoping that real talks would be held as part of a preferred separate process, whilst the Taliban insist that they will not talk to the Afghan government. Minister Khar, during a visit to the United Kingdom last week, complained that despite her government's intentions to help the process move forward, the message from Kabul was confusing because "Karzai was still unclear whether his government really wanted to negotiate with the Taliban in Qatar."
While Pakistan is also leery of the Qatar process, and prefers to sit on the margins, it has thus far facilitated Taliban travel and engaged both the Americans and the Qataris on logistical matters. But, because of their special relationship with Saudi Arabia, Pakistanis are partial to Saudi mediation efforts and prefer to downplay the contacts underway in Qatar.
Recent reports out of Saudi Arabia say that the Kingdom has hinted that it is willing to facilitate talks if the Taliban 1) renounce al-Qaeda, 2) lay down their arms, and 3) join the Afghan political arena, or in other words, agree to a power-sharing arrangement. Karzai has also hinted at times that he feels more comfortable with the Saudi track, which partially explains his reservations about the Qatar process.
Much of Afghanistan's loyal political opposition, women's rights groups and civil society not only feel marginalized, but are also increasingly concerned about a re-Talibanization of the country as a result of misplaced reconciliation priorities. There are calls for putting the current initiatives on hold, reforming the High Peace Council tasked to manage the reconciliation process, and reinforcing the government's negotiating baseline by getting more relevant social and political groups involved in the process.
With the unfortunate Quran burning dilemma causing deep anguish over the past week, it is too early to tell what impact it might have on the Afghan mission, at a time when the stakes for seeking a negotiated settlement are in high gear. Not only would a pause on peace negotiations during the Quran burning debacle allow all sides to engage in necessary damage control, but it would also provide a break to review strategic imperatives, consult on the way forward, and recommit.
If true, promising new channels of communications said to have opened between local officials and Taliban mediators as part of a fresh Afghan-to-Afghan initiative, could prove useful. However, the recent gruesome beheadings of four innocent civilians in Helmand and a popular radio station owner in Paktika Province are stark reminders of the cruel side of an insurgency that is pretending to recast itself as moderate. If the Taliban do not put a stop to such carnage and duplicity, the peace process will lose the support of even larger numbers of Afghans. Frankly, trying to appease elements that have no qualms about such egregious human rights violations cannot be conducive to lasting peace.
Given the current foray of activities, and spins and counter-spins, policy lines are being drawn by the following main actors, none of whom can be ignored or sidelined if there is to be a meaningful process:
1. The Afghan Government: Since Karzai's political preference seems to be the so-called Saudi formula, he has been reluctant to fully embrace the Qatar track, where Pakistan also remains a peripheral actor. He is aware, though, that the Taliban are not yet ready for direct talks. Recognizing the growing internal challenges he faces, his dual approach of candid talk and friendly overtures vis-a-vis Pakistan is seen as a dangerous wager by many Afghans who are asking for more transparency, consultation and verification. Meanwhile, Karzai rightly expects the U.S. to keep him in the inner loop, and is eager to see the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership finalized soon. How the Quaran burning disaster might impact the work in progress is still unclear. With a critical 2014 political transition ahead, Karzai may be inclined to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with the armed opposition that would not undermine his political base. This could translate into blurring established red-lines on gains made in the domains of democratic governance and constitutional rights, including gender rights. To strengthen its negotiating position, Kabul should implement reconciliation process reforms that would expand its support base through consultations and inclusivity. Afghans should agree on negotiation red-lines and stand by them. Furthermore, the next three years offer an opportunity to push for real change to improve governance, promote rule of law, especially on the judicial and prosecutorial sides, and implement electoral reforms that assure institutional independence and systemic transparency. These changes should also aim to provide the necessary space to draw the Taliban (or at least those independently inclined to do so) into a legitimate political arena, following a demobilization, disarmament and reintegration program.
2. The Taliban: Given their access to a support infrastructure, including sanctuaries inside and outside Afghanistan, the core decision-making bodies, based in Quetta and in North Waziristan, continue to hold the levers of power. However, trying to sideline the Afghan government and portray it as a puppet regime may prove to be a shallow tactic that will not find much support among ordinary Afghans. The Taliban's immediate objective is to secure the release of their top operatives from Guantanamo via the Qatar track. Thereafter, escalating the fighting as seasonal snows melt, while keeping all sides preoccupied with a tactical mix of peace overtures and psychological wearing-down ploys, may prove to be the most convenient distraction. Eventually, depending on the matrix of political progress, some fighters may favor a power-sharing arrangement, while others will invariably pursue a zero-sum game, either for ideological reasons or at the behest of foreign patrons, which will determine whether they will fracture or morph into a smaller yet more lethal opponent. Under a power-sharing arrangement, all measures need to be taken to see improvement on the security front, and prevent the fundamental weakening of the constitutional order and basic rights. The ultimate goal should be to integrate the reconcilable opponents into the political mainstream as seamlessly as possible, and let them compete for votes.
3. The United States: Having decided to disengage from the lengthy Afghan campaign, albeit maintaining some degree of responsibility and continuity (as is envisaged in the strategic partnership), the US aims to "work itself out of a job." The question is how fast, to what degree and with what end-state in mind? What seems to escape some policy advisors and pundits, who would have us perversely believe that we are witnessing some miraculous Taliban-style perestroika and glasnost moment, is the simple fact that Afghanistan remains the epicenter of the most dangerous and most security-relevant neighborhood in the world. There are no discernible indications that the forces that want to pursue a violent adversarial confrontation have as of late had a change of heart. As the U.S. tries to avoid another blowback effect (as experienced by the neglect of the 1990s) by seeking a reasonable negotiated agreement, it should also aim to protect the accomplishments of the last decade, and help define, with Afghans and other allies the logical end-state that assures real prospects for a durable and just peace that has the backing of major segments of Afghan society. Actively engaging all sides to shift to a new regional cooperation paradigm would also need to be a cornerstone of such an end-state strategy. The timeline for agreeing and putting such initiatives into effect is now as the 2014 withdrawal dateline approaches.
4. Pakistan: From an Afghan perspective, Pakistan (and to some extent Iran) has a strategic choice to make as a key player: use its influence to help forge a durable and just peace in Afghanistan, to help promote regional stability and economic development, pay lip service, or covertly use radicalism and duplicity to achieve its outdated militaristic objectives. The good news is that some among Pakistan's leadership now claim that they do not want a return to the chaotic Afghan conditions of the 1990s, are no longer obsessed with the "strategic depth" imperative to counter-balance India, or even a power grab by the stalwart Taliban. Pakistani leaders are now advocating "power-sharing" as a preferred option. As part of a new diplomatic offensive, visiting officials recently made an effort in Kabul to engage those Afghan political groups and personalities they usually consider adversaries. These indicators, if substantiated, need to be taken seriously as they could offer a glimpse of real change underway in Pakistani strategic calculus. However, if the crux of the matter still remains a perception that Indians are too close to Afghans, and the only way to offset this historic relationship is to impose the Taliban or other proxies into the body-politics of Afghanistan, then the reasoning is fundamentally flawed, because Indian-Afghan relations are by and large based on soft-power supply and demand dynamics, not on an anti-Pakistan predisposition. Regardless, the solution cannot be sought in continued bloodshed and promotion of proxy radicalism. The answer lies in separating the Afghan card from the Indian deck, and to have a broader and deeper understanding of a neighbor that has over the years bent backward to convey a message of peace and cooperation to Islamabad.
5. The role of other fringe actors, i.e. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union, Japan and even Qatar, are not inconsequential. They can use their good offices to facilitate and advocate for a just and durable peace, using their diplomatic and economic clout in as coordinated and coherent a manner possible to help the process move in the right direction.
The complex, and at times frustrating, reconciliation process proposed by the Afghan government at the international London Conference in 2010 is now in its third year, with almost no tangible results in sight. Thousands more lives have been lost on all sides, and billions of dollars later - partly to pay for a useful yet inconclusive surge - we have collectively failed to convince those who promote war that peace is the only option. Today's Afghanistan is no longer the country rescued from the clutches of terrorism in 2001. It is a very different place. The hard-earned gains (possible red-line items) in terms of education, health, gender rights, civil society and media development, income generation, infrastructure and institution building can neither be ignored nor should be traded off.
At a conference this week in Morocco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, expressing outrage for the burning of the Qurans, clearly defined the U.S. policy objective when she said, "... the hard work of trying to build a more peaceful, prosperous and secure Afghanistan must continue." However, what worries Afghans the most is a lack of clarity about the end-state and contingency planning; what is plan B in case these efforts fail, or if Afghans find themselves in a perilous situation post 2014? These fundamental questions need to be answered now, not later, as part of a pause and re-think that are crucial to carve the right way forward.
Omar Samad is a Senior Afghanistan Expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington. D.C. He was Afghanistan's ambassador to France (2009-2011), to Canada (2004-2009), and spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). This article reflects his personal opinion.
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The on-again, off-again effort by the Obama administration to begin preliminary peace talks with the Taliban is still struggling to get off the ground. The first move focuses on a statement by the Taliban against international terrorism and in support of a peace process and the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. For this the Taliban have called for the release of its prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.
To garner support for this initiative, the administration's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, has been traveling in the region, including meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, to make sure he is on board. Afghan officials have expressed concern about the possibility of a ‘secret deal' being struck between the Taliban and the U.S.
But that would be unlikely, given the administration's oft-repeated public assurance that it supports an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" reconciliation process. In fact, what is more likely than a ‘secret deal' is no deal at all.
Earlier high-level efforts by the U.S. government to have ‘peace talks' with the Taliban may be instructive. As Winston Churchill said: "The further back you look, the farther forward you can see."
The Taliban history of negotiating with its opponents reveals little reason for optimism. Striking a deal with its sworn enemies does not appear to be in the Taliban's DNA. Instead, past experience suggests it has adopted the negotiating equivalent of the "rope-a-dope' strategy in boxing -- agreeing to enter the ring, playing for time, evading and avoiding committing itself, letting the opponent wear himself out, then hitting back hard as it had intended to do all the time.
In April 1998, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, in order to bring them to the table to discuss the possibilities for peace. He also tried to persuade the Taliban either to expel Osama bin Laden or extradite him to the U.S. for his complicity in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
In his memoir Between Worlds, Richardson described the outcome: "Flying back to Pakistan that night, I thought, Well, this was a good day's work. Peace talks would get started later in the month, and if they went well, we might get bin Laden after all. But it wasn't to be. The agreement held for a while, but we quickly learned that the Taliban had no intention of making peace with the Northern Alliance. By early May, a belated spring offensive had begun and the two sides were at it again."
In February 1999 there was another attempt at direct talks with the Taliban. After the bin Laden-directed bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, I traveled to Islamabad with the State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism, Michael Sheehan, to meet with Mullah Abdul Jalil, a close adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar (from 1997-2001 I attended some 20 meetings with Taliban officials). The U.S. government had repeatedly demanded that the Taliban stop giving safe haven to terrorists. Now we told Jalil that the U.S. would hold the Taliban itself directly responsible for bin Laden's actions, and respond accordingly.
Mullah Jalil said that bin Laden was becoming a burden on Afghanistan, but that he was under the Taliban's control and he could not possibly be operating a worldwide network as we suggested. Later efforts were made to provide the Taliban with more information about the U.S. case against bin Laden, but they never responded.
Subsequently the UN Security Council tried to persuade the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Two resolutions were adopted, and sanctions were imposed, but, again, the Taliban defied these calls by the international community. On a scale of one to ten on good faith negotiations, the Taliban proved to be a zero.
Are the Taliban likely to be any more accommodating today, specifically the Quetta Shura faction still led by Mullah Omar? Recent statements issued by the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" on January 3 and January 12 suggest not. That was the name the Taliban gave Afghanistan during its rule from 1996 to 2001. The international community never recognized it. The Taliban still stick to it.
Taken together, these statements lay out the Taliban's ‘going in' position for peace talks, including the departure of all U.S. and foreign forces and a continuation of their "jihad" until that goal is accomplished. Also, the movement remains at least in rhetoric opposed to negotiations with the Karzai government (referred to as "the stooge Kabul administration") as well as acceptance of the Afghan constitution.
Administration officials say that while they are under no illusion about the chances of success in opening direct talks with the Taliban, they are convinced that a political settlement is the only solution to the war. But they also need to be convinced that the Taliban is serious about a future for Afghanistan that is not a return to the days of the "Islamic Emirate."
In this regard, several probing questions need to be asked of Taliban representatives during what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says is "still in the preliminary stages of testing whether [talks] can be successful":
During the years of repressive Taliban rule, none of these questions could have been answered in the affirmative. Can they be today?
And, more importantly, what concrete steps can be taken by the Taliban to demonstrate that they will abide by their declarations and assurances in the future? A good, measureable place to start for the Taliban to establish their bona fides would be an end to all suicide bombings in Afghanistan. Other confidence building measures would need to follow.
Another quote by Winston Churchill that relates to opening up direct talks with the Taliban is one of his most famous: "To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war." It is axiomatic at this point that the conflict in Afghanistan will not end by military means alone. And the search for a political settlement must reach out to all parties -- but with eyes wide open.
Karl F. Inderfurth is a Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration (1997-2001).
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A decade after the first international conference on Afghanistan at Bonn, Germany is hosting a follow-up conference on Monday, widely known as Bonn II. The first Bonn Conference prepared a framework for the newly established Afghan administration and picked Hamid Karzai to lead the interim administration. In 2004 and again in 2009, Karzai was elected President of the country.
As always with this war-torn region, there are voices expressing optimism and others expressing pessimism regarding what can be expected of the conference. The recent NATO air strike along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has certainly contributed to the voices of pessimism. Islamabad has declared that it will boycott the conference as a protest to what they're calling the "unprovoked" NATO bombing that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Although there's been no change in that official decision, sources have said that Pakistan's Ambassador in Germany will likely attend.
Pakistan's rigid stance against participating in the Bonn conference conveys a clear, but dangerous message -- that it has no desire to bring stability to Afghanistan.
The conference is expected to focus on three main areas: the transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghan government by 2014, the long-term commitment by the international community to Afghanistan beyond the 2014, and the future political stability of the country.
Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor for Afghanistan was also eager to remind me, "Ten years have passed since the first historic Bonn Conference that helped chart a political road-map for creating the institutions of a permanent democratic government [in Afghanistan]. That central objective of the first Bonn Conference, along with its other major goals, has been achieved. But our collective efforts to secure the future of Afghanistan are still a work in progress."
Haidari then drove his point home. "The main objective of this second Bonn Conference is for the international community and the government of Afghanistan to re-affirm our shared commitment to a solid, long-term partnership beyond 2014. Such partnership must credibly assure the Afghan people that our country will not be abandoned again. Afghanistan's enemies must understand that our nation-partners will continue their solidarity and support with and for the Afghan people, until Afghanistan is no longer vulnerable to security threats from the same state and non-state actors which once undermined international peace and security -- as we experienced in the unchecked events of the 1990s that led to the tragedy of 9/11."
Afghan women's rights activist Najla Ayubi has a decidedly more negative view of what the upcoming conference can accomplish. "It is one of several unproductive, symbolic conferences to be held on Afghanistan. Decisions have already been made. Several international conferences were held in the past ten years, none had tangible and effective outcomes for Afghans -- this one is not an exception. The Afghan people at large are the victim of regional and international politics. The current Afghan government could not effectively use the previous opportunities opened for Afghanistan and will not be able to appropriately use the new opportunity."
She went on to say, "Afghans suffer from unconstitutional acts, systemic corruption, human rights violations, increasing insecurity, poppy boom, extreme poverty, and more." To address these issues, Ayubi suggests, "If the current Afghan administration has any wish to be honest with its people -- which I doubt -- it is time for the Afghan authorities to admit their past mistakes and open the door for a holistic approach to overcome the contemporary challenges facing the country, which include increasing insecurity and systemic corruption."
Like Ayubi, Vahid Mojdeh, political analyst and former member of the Taliban's foreign ministry staff, also voiced pessimism about what the conference can achieve. But Mojdeh is pessimistic for different reasons. He argues that the first Bonn Conference, lacking the presence of the Taliban and not well represented ethnically, triggered the current chaos and insecurity in the country. And he insists that, "the Second Bonn Conference suffers from similar shortcomings." In addition, Pakistan has boycotted the conference, which will potentially prevent the outcomes of the meeting from being implemented.
Asadullah Walwalji, an Afghan writer and analyst told me that the "absence of Pakistan in such a conference means that decisions made there, will not be implemented; i.e. Islamabad will continue to play its destructive and sabotaging role in Afghanistan."
Sayed Zaman Hashemi, an Afghan political
analyst, has a different view about the conference. "I think the first Bonn
Conference was to fight terrorism, establish a democratic system, and rebuild
Afghanistan. Considering the recession and pressure from the public in those
Bonn Conference, indeed, is an exit conference and end point to an active
presence of the West in Afghanistan. The reasons behind such an exit are clear:
systemic corruption within the Afghan administration and the (fact that the)
Afghan government has practically changed democracy to demagogy - both of which
are unacceptable for the West."
Bonn Conference is taking place at a time when the Afghan government is seeking
to sign a binding strategic partnership agreement with the United States, while
to the Afghan government -- the United States insists on signing a
nonbinding declaration. Before signing the strategic agreement, the Afghan
government has set a precondition that U.S. forces stop
carrying out night raids on Afghan homes. The U.S. and NATO have long
considered night raids one of the most effective ways to fight insurgency in
Afghanistan. The Afghan government is also insisting that the U.S. hand over
those prisoners dwelling under the custody of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Some Afghan analysts, however, believe that the Afghan government should be more cautious in this regard. "The Afghan people are in need of cooperation by a superpower like the U.S. The Afghan government should not be so insistent regarding its conditions to the U.S. They both had better come to a mutually acceptable agreement that will potentially benefit both countries." states Ayubi.
Helaluddin Helal, a former Afghanistan Deputy Interior Minister, also believes that the Afghan government should not insist on its position. "At this stage, the Afghan security forces are not acquainted with modern military tools. Considering the effectiveness of night raids and the inabilities of the Afghan security forces, how can the government take a leading role in night raids?" Helal asks, arguing that Afghan troops need more time to be trained in order to lead the assaults. In addition, Helal argues that most Afghan security forces are affiliated with different ethnic allegiances and that in the near term, it will be impossible for them to rise above those allegiances in order to align themselves with the national interest.
Equally important, Helal says, the Afghan security forces are unable to take over responsibility for detainees being held at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan. Two prison breaks in Kandahar, in which hundreds of mostly Taliban prisoners managed to escape, exemplify the incompetence of Afghan forces. Helal predicts that a strategic partnership between the two countries will be signed, but that it will take time.
Considering the acute political, security, and economic situation in Afghanistan and proven incompetence of the Afghan government to use international aid effectively, systematically fight corruption, ensure security, prevent poppy cultivation, provide a better living standard for Afghans, and establish an administration based on the values of good governance, it seems likely that the second Bonn Conference will fail to establish a more durable order. Unless the international community puts increasing pressure on the Afghan government to fight corruption and provide better services for the Afghan people, the insurgents will gain strength, more people will join hands with the Taliban, security will deteriorate, and both the Afghan people and the international community will suffer the consequences.
However, something the conference can accomplish is providing the international community with the opportunity to convey its clear message that Afghanistan will not be abandoned again, and that Pakistan will not be given another chance to set Afghanistan's course, as it did during the Taliban's time in power.
Khalid Mafton is an Afghan writer and analyst.
PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistan's knee-jerk reaction to the fatal NATO airstrikes in Mohmand that resulted in the killing of 24 (some accounts suggest 26) soldiers is being seen in Pakistani government and diplomatic circles, behind the scenes, as a face-saving bluff on the part of the country's security establishment. This "bluff" allows the military to dictate its terms to the United States while maintaining the appearance of a strong stance against the Americans by avoiding the Bonn conference on Afghanistan set to open Monday.
Apart from the early days of the anti-terror war in the aftermath of the 9/11, Pakistan and the United States have never been completely on the same page in their fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants and restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan. Despite being allies in fighting al-Qaeda-linked militants, the two uneasy bed fellows never miss a chance to let the other down and squeeze the other, especially as their interests have increasingly clashed in neighboring Afghanistan.
Indeed, the United States has pushed for action against the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura Taliban and demanded cooperation in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, while no one has paid heed to even some of the genuine demands and reservations of the Pakistani state with regards to Afghanistan, be they concern over Pashtun nationalism or India's role across the Durand Line.
The November 26 incident, though tragic, has provided an opportunity for Pakistan's army to muzzle the chattering mouths accusing them of willful neglect in missing bin Laden's presence in the garrison town of Abbottabad and pursuing a double game in fighting some militants in the tribal region of the country while giving others safe haven. The incident has proved ideal in averting international pressure and restoring, to some extent, the army's image at home, allowing them to line up the Pakistani masses, whose anti-Americanism is well known, in the name of patriotism.
The government's decision to boycott Monday's Bonn conference in Germany, as well as the halting of NATO supply convoys and the eviction of American personnel from the Shamsi Airbase have served this purpose quite well.
A senior official in the Pakistan People's Party (PPP)-led government said on the condition of anonymity that the security decisions are made by the army leadership, but when it comes to problems with the United States or the international community, the civilian government tends to be pushed out in front, forcing the government -- and not the army -- to bear the brunt of public protest against the United States and its allies.
The same time, the official said, it is the military leadership and not the civilian government that has a major say in key decisions like the Shamsi Airbase or the silent approval or public disapproval of drone strikes. His comments carry some weight, as a senior Pakistan military officer briefing journalists on the Mohmand attack said, "the rules of engagement have to be formulated by the [civilian] government" when asked about why the Pakistan Air Force did not respond while the attack in Mohmand continued for four hours. However, reports last week indicated that Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had changed the rules to allow Pakistani forces to respond to incursions into Pakistani territory without seeking approval.
The Shamsi airbase decision and the border closing are changes that make for catchy headlines in the Pakistani Urdu media, easy choices that appeal to the patriotism of common Pakistanis attracted to every slogan that goes against the United States.
As for the third decision -- to boycott the Bonn Conference -- a number of key Pakistani politicians and analysts are of the view that Pakistan had nothing to offer at the summit being held to discuss the future of Afghanistan.
When discussing the three major decisions following the November 26 incident, female parliamentarian Bushra Gohar says Pakistan's foreign and security policies are always controlled by the army command. "Why did they [the army] did not show such reaction following the May 2 raid in Abbottabad?" she asked.
In comments to this author, Gohar said some matters have been given undue importance, and it seems that Pakistan is at war with its own self. By this, she was referring to the widening gap between the army and the civilian government where the former is controlling the key policies but shifting the responsibility to the civilian authorities.
Amidst the furor from jingoistic television anchors and panelists of the private television channels in Pakistan, some others raise a genuine question as why the single incident in Mohmand forced the Pakistani policy makers to a point of almost no return despite the fact that over 30,000 Pakistanis have been killed in incidents of terrorism and military operations in the past 10 years.
The answer is simple: Facing humiliation both at home and on the international scene following the May 2 incident, the November 26 raid has provided an opportunity to the Pakistani security establishment to dictate its terms to the U.S. and NATO, who are struggling hard to get out of Afghanistan by announcing victory.
To stage a comeback in the anti-terror alliance and become part of the peace efforts in Afghanistan once again, Pakistan is already working on a list of its future requirements as part of its relationship with the United States, said one government official.
Some of the key demands are likely to be placed on the table by the Pakistani side before re-entering the partnership, including a written agreement with the United States on Pakistan's cooperation in the war against militancy, an end to drone strikes (which have been the most lethal weapon against Taliban and al-Qaeda militants) and a bigger say for Pakistan and the pro-Pakistan Haqqani Network in any future set-up in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is also asking for guarantees that attacks like the one on November 26 would not recur, and that India's role in Afghanistan be restricted. All of those have long been the key demands and concerns of Pakistan, but the country was not in a position to explicitly push for them because of the widespread suspicions about its duplicitous role in the fight against terrorism.
However, the November 26 raid has presented itself as an opportunity for Pakistan to press for its demands and concerns before re-joining the United States' 10-year-old counterterrorism alliance.
Daud Khattak is a journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
In October 2009, President Obama signed the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) Act into law, thereby authorizing $7.5 billion in civilian assistance to Pakistan.
More than two years later, however, KLB has seemingly produced more acrimony than aid.
With only a relatively small percentage of KLB aid released, and with that aid having a minimal public impact, many Pakistanis complain that Washington's promise of expanded development aid rings hollow. Meanwhile, with the United States mired in economic malaise, many Americans are increasingly uneasy about sending any tax dollars to a nation they believe sheltered Osama Bin Laden and maintains links with other anti-American militants.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz has set off a political firestorm in Pakistan with his claims that he was brokering an offer from Pakistan's civilian leaders to the Pentagon to unseat the leadership of the Pakistani military.
Those accusations forced the resignation on Tuesday of Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who Ijaz says orchestrated this proposal, which was delivered in a unsigned memo in May to Adm. Mike Mullen, then-U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state that is home to a number of Taliban groups that attack U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan and also is home to what remains of al Qaeda's "core" organization.
Haqqani helped smooth over many tense moments in the important U.S.-Pakistan relationship, including the shooting in January of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in northern Pakistan in May.
Peter Bergen is the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation, where Andrew Lebovich is a policy analyst. They edit the AfPak Channel.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
For Sherry Rehman, her birthday present may have come one month early.
In a move that surprised many (including myself) who were playing the Pakistan's Next Ambassador to the U.S. guessing game, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani appointed Rehman to the post, hours after Husain Haqqani resigned in the wake of the Memogate scandal.
A former journalist and now Chairperson of Jinnah Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad, 50-year old Rehman has been through a rough two years. After resigning from her post in 2009 as Minister for Information following the tussle between the government and the judiciary over the government's clampdown on television coverage, Rehman set up her think tank while retaining her position in the National Assembly.
But in 2010, all of that changed. Sherry Rehman campaigned for amendments to the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, after Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, was sentenced to death in Punjab.
Pakistan's right wing went into overdrive. Rehman received death threats, and a fatwa was issued calling for her to be killed. She was confined to her house, under a self-imposed house arrest. After Punjab Governor and flamboyant liberal Salmaan Taseer was murdered by his guard for supporting Aasia Bibi, and months later the Christian Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated by gunmen, fears for Rehman's safety became more urgent. A court case was filed against Rehman by Saleem Akhtar, a shopkeeper in Multan, accusing her of committing blasphemy; in fact, all Rehman had called for was a change in the laws.
Rehman was forced to withdraw her bill calling for amendments in the Blasphemy Law. She resumed work on a number of initiatives being undertaken by the Jinnah Institute including working on a Track II India-Pakistan peace process and publishing reports on the Afghanistan peace process.
Rehman comes from a prominent Sindhi family; her father was a well-known lawyer and judge, while her mother was the first female vice president of Pakistan's Central Bank. A graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, she began her career as a journalist in the 1980s. Rehman went on to become at age 26 the youngest editor of the Herald magazine, a major Pakistani monthly. During her ten-year stint as editor, she was arrested and briefly held after the magazine ran a story critical of a government minister. After leaving the Herald, she wrote a book on Kashmiri shawls, The Kashmiri Shawl: From Jamawar to Paisley.
Rehman had met and became close to the late Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto during the former's time at the Herald. After Rehman left the Herald and published her book, she officially joined the party. In a 2009 interview with me, Rehman said, "A force of nature called Benazir Bhutto had decided that I would be in politics and it was virtually impossible to resist."
In 2002, she became a member of the parliament, taking one of the seats reserved for women, and was re-elected in the 2008 elections. In her own words, she describes the late Ms. Bhutto as "the guru." Rehman remained a close confidante of Bhutto, and as part of the core group of the PPP, helped formulate the party's election manifesto. Rehman accompanied Bhutto in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, when Bhutto was assassinated. It was in Rehman's car that Bhutto was rushed to hospital.
Rehman's relationship with the PPP has been an uneasy one in the years after Bhutto's death. She became Minister for Information in 2008 but resigneda year later after a clampdown on TV channels that were broadcasting the campaign to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry as Chief Justice of Pakistan's Supreme Court. In 2010, after she appeared on a television show for Geo News, rabid PPP supporters surrounded her residence in Karachi. The party issued a show-cause notice (asking her to explain herself) to her for appearing on the show against party orders.
While there are murmurs that her relationship with those controlling the PPP has taken a turn for the better, her appointment as ambassador has made many, including some in Pakistan's military establishment, heave a sigh of relief. A liberal, eloquent, politically suave and stylish, Rehman may just be the dose of stability required in Pakistan's civil-military relationship, and with Pakistan's relationship with the United States. However,her appointment has already made the religious right-wing parties scream bloody murder -- a leader of the religious party the
Sunni Tehreek said, "Rehman was already following "policies of the U.S. and the Jewish lobby as she tried to abolish the country's blasphemy laws." A petition has also reportedly been filed in a court in Multan against her appointment as ambassador, accusing Rehman of committing blasphemy in a TV show aired in 2010. How these objections play out in the coming days remains to be seen, but in the meantime, the Embassy of Pakistan awaits their new representative.
Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News in Washington DC, and can be reached at email@example.com.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
This morning Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, resigned his post over the scandal known as "Memogate," whereby Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that he was asked by Amb. Haqqani to pass a memo to former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, asking for help in reigning in Pakistan's military establishment. But while Haqqani's resignation may signal an end to this episode, the prior evolution of events was nothing short of a witch hunt.
The ‘witch' in question varies depending on whom you speak to. If you're a member of Pakistan's opposition parties, Haqqani's actions were an act of treason, and his resignation is only a further admission of guilt. How dare he, they demand to know, ask for foreign (American) help to control Pakistan's military? How dare he be secretive about said actions?
If you're one of those in the ruling party, Mansoor Ijaz is a lying conspirator, a man not to be trusted. The revelation of the memo, they claimed, was really just an excuse to target democracy, to vilify the PPP government. Haqqani's resignation was not an admission of guilt, but a sacrifice in honor of said democracy.
In the serial drama also known as Pakistani politics, all the key elements have been in place - intrigue, cloak-and-dagger conspiracy, treason, and secrecy. From the outset, it plays out much like an episode of Game of Thrones, where in their thirst for power, the main actors all simultaneously destroy each other (or themselves). Except this is real life, and we've seen this episode numerous times before. Politicians are intent on leveraging "Memogate" for their own party ambitions in anticipation of the upcoming elections, while the military sits pretty on the sideline, their hands clean of the public mudslinging. As is often the case, dangling a threat to sovereignty or to Pakistan's security is enough to stir a feeding frenzy.
For those of us who read the memo in question, who perused through the BlackBerry messages exchanged between Haqqani and Ijaz, and who have read every imaginable op-ed and interview on the controversy, one thing is abundantly clear: even with Haqqani's resignation, we still are not entirely sure what happened. It is possible that we may never know. We should concern ourselves not with asking hypothetical questions, but asking the right questions. What constitutes treason within the Pakistani narrative? And why are many challenges to the current civil-military status quo met with such accusations?
In the case of this incident, Haqqani's alleged actions were called treasonous and unpatriotic because he is said to have attempted to challenge the security establishment, to hand over Pakistan's sovereignty to America. As Fasi Zaka noted in his op-ed for the Express Tribune the memo sought to allow "another state a unilateral deal of internal policy actions without any legal authority [that] bypasses all codes of conduct." Extra negative points if that foreign hand happens to be American.
But shouldn't we then place other purported back door dealings under similar scrutiny? Why do we continue to be incensed by the alleged attempts by a civilian politician to undermine the security establishment but fail to express similar outrage if the same security establishment undermines a civilian government, whether it be through military coups, backchannel talks with militants to retain strategic depth in Pakistan, or even purported deals permitting a U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
The civil-military imbalance, as also noted by Mosharraf Zaidi for Foreign Policy, is the primary reason behind this disconnect. Pakistan's military, despite its flaws, has historically projected a stronger and more resolute image than any civilian regime. The national sentiment has long bought into this perception. The charge of treason against former Ambassador Haqqani is, therefore, subjective, laced with emotion, and used conveniently in the semantics of political pot shots to desperately curry favor among the masses. Treason makes for a good sound bite. But in throwing around such accusations, we lose sight of the bigger picture.
Haqqani's resignation today will be viewed as an admission of guilt to some and a sacrifice to others. But the bigger issue has been left untouched. In terms of Pakistan's broader civil-military relations, the sign is clear -- cross the military, and you will get burned. And as the mudslinging continued, it became increasingly clear that the only players getting dirty and tainted were the politicians. Long live democracy.
Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder/CEO of Invest2Innovate (i2i), a start-up that aims to grow the social entrepreneurship space in new markets, beginning in Pakistan. She is based in Washington, D.C., and blogs at CHUP, or Changing Up Pakistan.
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In less than a month, world leaders will once again convene in Bonn, Germany to lay out a roadmap for Afghanistan's fledgling democracy and its future beyond 2014. Chaired by the Afghan government, "Bonn+10," as it is now known, is expected to include representatives from dozens of countries and international organizations. It aims to devise an effective plan for the ongoing security transition to Afghan control, accelerate the contentious Afghan reconciliation process, and delineate long-term regional and international engagement of Afghanistan beyond 2014.
In anticipation of the meeting, the second phase of shifting security responsibilities to Afghan security forces was decided upon at an international conference in Istanbul on November 2. The Afghan government and twelve regional countries signed the Istanbul Declaration whereby the leaders of those countries, including Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Russia and some Central Asian Republics, expressed their support for Afghanistan and committed to cooperate in the Afghan reconciliation process and combat terrorism and insurgency. However, many Afghans view these developments with skepticism. They worry about the country's uncertain future as the U.S.-led coalition prepares to withdraw some troops and move the remainder into support roles ahead of the 2014 deadline. These fears are even more intense within Afghan civil society, excluded from both the upcoming gathering and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
Many Afghans believe that another major conference alone will not serve as a panacea, or bring any tangible solutions to their problems, especially when President Hamid Karzai will select most of the participants with only nominal civil society representation, including NGOs and traditional local and tribal leaders. Such concerns were further escalated after Karzai asked to convene a traditional Loya Jirga (grand assembly) that would guarantee the primacy of his inner clique in the gathering, and hence a continuation of the present dysfunctional political system. The five-day Loya Jirga is scheduled to begin in Kabul on November 16, and will bring together around 2,000 influential Afghan political figures, warlords, former anti-Soviet mujahideen and jihadi leaders, local and tribal leaders, and civil society representatives to discuss the upcoming conference and the much-anticipated U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership. These doubts were intensified most recently when the Taliban published a 27-page document it claimed to be the official security plan for the so-called "slave jirga." If the document is proven to be authentic, it would represent a clear blow to the Afghan government, particularly the security apparatus, and would show the Taliban's ability to infiltrate even the most highly secured areas of government. The jirga's promise appeared further threatened when key Afghan opposition figures, including Abdullah Abdullah called it "illegal" and "unconstitutional," and said he will not partake.
Additionally, concerns abound across Afghanistan that President Karzai may abuse his executive powers to alter the Afghan Constitution and remain in office after ending his current term in 2014, despite his recent statements to the contrary. This potential move by Karzai is widely seen and construed, mostly by members of Afghanistan's United National Front, as a safeguard of his power in the case of waning support in his native south or a political gridlock in Kabul.
of violence over the past few months has further magnified some Afghans' doubts
about the U.S. strategy of trying to reconcile with the Taliban. Many Afghans
are concerned that next month's conference may well set in motion ten years or
more of yet another dysfunctional and corrupt governance for Afghanistan and
that planning for the future will be pointless and trivial without security and
stability on the ground. However, others fear that "Bonn+10" will fail to bring
any tangible change to Afghanistan because the focus of the meeting will not be
on reconciling with the Taliban. Many Afghans, as well as
non-Afghans, think it was a mistake to exclude representatives of armed
insurgent groups, including the Taliban, from the last Bonn meeting in 2001,
ignoring even those who reconciled, and that the likely reoccurrence next month
will inexorably mean failure for the conference.
They believe the Taliban's
exclusion from the conference means the meeting will be merely for show
and not for a political settlement. Worse still, the Taliban's exclusion may
well result in their challenging the outcomes of the conference just as they
did after the first Bonn meeting in 2001.
The various Bonn participants have expressed divergent views on the Taliban's presence at the upcoming conference. President Karzai has repeatedly stated that he will not participate in the meeting without the Taliban, and the United States and its NATO allies appear to have left the decision up to the Afghan government. However, the U.S. envoy in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, has categorically stated that there is no chance for the Taliban to participate in the conference. While the Taliban has rejected nearly every attempted negotiation, operating with such lack of coordination, transparency and leadership on an issue of national and international priority sends mixed and confusing messages to the Taliban leadership. This lack of unified voice has further complicated the already fragile peace process.
There are many contradictory views and misconceptions about the reconciliation process, and whether and to what degree to engage the Taliban as the United States assumes a non-combat and/or support role. While Afghanistan's reconciliation and reintegration process, ostensibly led by the High Peace Council, provides an official address for peace talks, it lacks the inclusiveness and national support necessary for successful implementation. The High Peace Council has become a talk show of incompetent representatives picked personally by President Karzai and has been largely unsuccessful in addressing the fears of most Afghans. While the reconciliation process is meant to achieve a timely and constructive peace deal with the Taliban, it also plays a crucial role in the transition process and supports the responsibility of both Afghan security forces and leadership. Afghanistan's current transition process is designed to produce better governance, catalyze economic development, and institutionalize the rule of law ahead of the 2014 U.S. withdrawal deadline. If the reconciliation with the Taliban does not materialize or fails, there will be no successful security transition.
Another impediment and an apparent challenge to the peace talks at Bonn next month is the realignment of anti-Taliban constituencies in the north of Afghanistan. This opposition includes primarily non-Pashtuns - Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras - who all fought against the Taliban under the umbrella of the Northern Alliance in the 1990s. Vigorous critics of both President Karzai and the Taliban, these elements believe they have the most to lose from any negotiated peace deal and strongly oppose any talks with the Taliban. It is widely believed that these groups will put together a unified voice to oppose and challenge the current reconciliation process in next month's conference. This belief was solidified last Friday after the former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud - a younger brother of the late anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban resistance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud - announced the formation a new political movement known as Jabha-e Milli-e Afghanistan (the National Front of Afghanistan). The movement that includes several key leaders of different minority groups has already taken a potent stance against the current Afghan government by denouncing and boycotting the upcoming Jirga.
Many Afghans also doubt that the conference can elicit increased or perhaps "sincere" regional support and commitment from neighboring countries. While the 2001 Bonn conference was successful in bringing together a large alliance and laying out a plan and groundwork for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, one of the mistakes it made was ignoring regional countries and not curtailing their interference in Afghanistan. This gave Pakistan (and other external elements) a free hand to continue covertly supporting and providing sanctuary to subversive groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan, resulting in the killing of many Afghan, American and NATO soldiers. The Bonn conference next month is a good opportunity to garner and ensure such kinds of regional pledges and commitments with sticks and carrots.
In light of the difficulties and looming uncertainties ahead, it is unclear whether another Bonn conference will help Afghanistan positively shape its future. While there is no silver bullet for Afghanistan's ills, next month's meeting will at least provide an opportunity for the United States and NATO to lay out a functional roadmap ahead of and beyond 2014 for a successful political, security and economic transition, good governance, peace and reconciliation, and rule of law. There is also still time to ensure that the conference is truly representative of all Afghans, including different ethnic and social groups, to decide their uncertain future. It is equally important for Bonn+10 to ensure an authentic political will and sincere commitment to peace building in Afghanistan, and for Afghans to constructively engage in nation building process in the years to come.
Javid Ahmad, a native of Kabul, is Program Coordinator with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
As we pass the 10-year anniversary of the US-led war in Afghanistan, most attention has been focused on how much longer the United States intends to stay in the region. But a question that has not been addressed is who is going to be putting the pieces together afterwards. The European Union (EU) and the United States are clearly at the end of their tether, while Russia, India and other nearby powers continue to lack the capacity or means to dominate the region. Other rising regional power China may continue to be wary of becoming involved in any foreign entanglements, but as a friend put it in a meeting in Beijing the other day, China may not have broken the teapot of Afghanistan, but it is one that sits firmly on their borders.
And there is some evidence that this reality is sinking in at Zhongnanhai in Beijing. Chinese firms have made substantial investments in Afghanistan. The Aynak copper mine has been joined by an investment in oil fields in northern Afghanistan. And while Chinese firms in the end did not invest in the Bamiyan iron mines they have still cast their lot in terms of developing Afghan infrastructure - pouring money into telecoms, road-building and train lines linking Afghanistan to the rest of the region.
But this has not been supported by any large-scale investment in Afghan security. For that, China continues to look to NATO on the ground and more implicit protection from her close ally in Islamabad. As one senior Afghan put it to me, a reason that was often given for why the Chinese had gotten some of these deals was that it was known how close they were to Pakistan. The assumption was that if the deal went to China then the site would be protected in some way and the development would proceed.
While unclear to what degree this was the determining factor, the story plays into what seems to be China's main foreign policy factor when considering Afghanistan, and that is Pakistan. The Sino-Pak relationship is one of the closest in the world, spanning trade, nuclear weapons, counter-terrorism and regional hedging against India. As both sides characterize it publicly, it is "higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel, sweeter than honey, and dearer than eyesight." And into this fits Afghanistan, a troublesome country that borders both and is the source of regional instability. China, still a hesitant foreign policy actor, is unwilling to do too much to assert her authority in the region and is more than happy to let eager Pakistan take the lead.
And this approach is something that has worked for China for many years now. Unwilling to become involved in a conflict that could force it to take sides in a conflict in which it could be painted as part of some alliance against Islam and potentially support actors who would encourage separatists in the restive Xinjiang province, China has hesitated to do much in Afghanistan in support of NATO efforts in the country. For some in China, there was a sense that NATO's loss in Afghanistan was China's gain and that the potential encirclement that might result from NATO success on their borders would be to China's detriment, while for others there was a sense that this was a lost cause anyway and that Afghanistan was the "graveyard of empires."
Instead, China focused on investing in things that seemed like a good idea. A large copper mine at Aynak sits close to China's borders and consequently seemed a wise investment to first bid for it and then offer a whole package of deals including a local power station and train line to provide the backdrop to make the deal work for the Chinese firm. All of this would help supply China's need for copper, as well as develop a part of the country that was close to China and would therefore potentially have a knock-on effect in improving prosperity in neighboring underdeveloped Chinese province Xinjiang. Similarly with the deal to secure the oil fields in Amu Darya - China's unslakable thirst for hydrocarbons means it will reach out anywhere to get them, and when they are so close to home, all the better.
But while none of this disagrees with western policy in Afghanistan, there is no sense that China is willing to buy into any active policy supporting western goals in the region. China continues to be the ultimate hedging power in Afghanistan - while it seems clear that they are willing to support western aims in the country, there continues to be a lack of any clear evidence that they are as willing to expend political capital or effort to advance their goals actively in the country. This is not to say they are indolent in advancing their interests, but that they are wary of becoming entangled in a country that has repeatedly shown a capacity to reject foreign influence.
From a Chinese perspective, the answer to Afghanistan is clear. The tribes need to fight it out amongst each other - to paraphrase what one expert told me in Beijing, this is a country with "lots of big powerful men who need to be kept happy" and outsiders do not really stand much of chance moderating this. Ultimately, the country is poor, will clearly need investment going forward, and China will be there to support it. With deep pockets and no conditions, this support can be funneled to whomever is in charge and to whomever has the power of the provinces where China has direct interests. When it comes to border threats, China seems to have managed to secure strong intelligence links and is able to keep a quite firm lid on any potential threats from extremist groups with links to networks in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
China's play in Afghanistan has been very hesitant so far. The reason for this is a lack of certainty in Beijing about what Washington's game plan is. In the meantime, they have continued to make careful strategic investments with a view to the long game. And while from a western analysis this should mean a greater Chinese interest in stabilizing the current government, from Beijing's perspective it is far better to let things play themselves out while focusing on specific interests. This will not necessarily help western aims to re-shape Afghanistan, but it will strengthen China's hand when the west finally leaves.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. He blogs at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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On October 4, 2011, the day that India and Afghanistan signed an agreement on strategic partnership, I traveled from Kabul to Kandahar, getting what was for me a rare glimpse of the average Afghan's perception of Indian developmental activity in his country. What was striking was the widespread support I saw in the Pashtun heartland for an even greater Indian role in rebuilding the Afghan economy and society. There is demand in Kandahar for India to add to the lone refrigeration facility it built, as Afghan goods are otherwise sold to the Pakistanis, who keep them in their own refrigeration facilities and then sell them back to the Afghans at much higher prices.
In the Arghandab Valley, traditionally known for its pomegranates, locals seek help in establishing storage, processing and transit facilities. The airport manager at the Kandahar International airport, Ahmedullah Faizi, highlighted the need for more cargo flights to export pomegranates and dry fruits. On direct flights from Kandahar to Delhi, there has been a notable increase in the number of visitors to India for health care, tourism and education. Women who had been queuing up with their young children since 5 o'clock in the morning at an Indian medical facility in Kandahar expressed appreciation for India's assistance. In discussions with Shah Wali Karzai, Qayoom Karzai and Mehmood Karzai in Kandaharthe day after the agreement was signed, the Karzai brothers were clear on their desire for India to invest in cement factories, irrigation and power projects, road and canal building, and an increase the number of scholarships for Afghan students to study professional courses like management and public administration in India.
The agreement came on the heels of the killing of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the subsequent suspension of reconciliation talks with the Taliban, leading many to conclude that it was signed in order to isolate Pakistan. What these critics have missed is that the agreement was more than five months in the making, designed to address the long-standing demands of the Afghan people. A series of official visits and private deliberations since January of this year culminated in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement in May of the two countries' plans for a strategic partnership. During an interview in Kabul in the days following the establishment of the pact, former Interior Minister Ali Jalali said he "recognizes the agreement as a document officializing [sic] the close ties that already exist between the two countries." Shah Mahmood Miakhel, former Deputy Minister of Interior, strongly supported the agreement as "useful for reconstruction and stability of Afghanistan to prevent civil war or proxy war."
This development should silence the critics of India's aid-only policy. Some senior Indian officials and former diplomats I have spoken to warned that India could get caught in a "reputation trap," where it is overstretched economically in a country of "negative security interests." The agreement is an affirmation of India's maturing foreign policy in the region. It is also a natural corollary of the constructive role India has played in Afghan development efforts thus far. In the last ten years, India has contributed close to $2 billion in aid, making it Afghanistan's fifth largest bilateral donor, and garnering much appreciation from the local population. The success of development efforts in Afghanistan is clearly a key aspect of achieving stability there. Thus, the Afghan-Indian strategic agreement may be seen as the consolidation of gains made by India's soft power approach, as well as an expansion of India's plans to secure its national security interests. A strong, stable and democratic Afghanistan would reduce the dangers of the return of extremist forces to the seats of power, and the potential spillover of radicalism and violence that would destabilize the entire region.
The agreement is important in that it touches on a wide range of issues that are critical to sustaining progress in Afghanistan. India's decision to expand the training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), particularly the Afghan National Police (ANP), is a significant step toward building local capacity for providing security. The trade and economic agreements in the pact are a reiteration of India's commitment to Afghanistan's economic growth, and its role as a "bridge" between South Asia and Central Asia. The emphasis on "regional economic cooperation" in the ASP indicates India's vision of binding the countries in the region through a mutually beneficial cooperative framework. Finally, the agreement's capacity building and educational initiatives are a pledge from India to invest in the future leadership of Afghanistan.
India is indeed looking beyond merely engaging the Karzai government, or indulging one ethnic or political faction. The strategic agreement ensures the continuity of India's initiatives by making them free from the politics, whims and personal fancies of future leaders. Assertions that India's foreign policy does not usually have a long-term vision no longer apply in the case of Afghanistan. An institutional mechanism for continued engagement in Afghanistan in the form of this agreement is bound to cultivate a broad range of stakeholders in that country, preventing a complete reversal later of the gains it makes in the short term.
New Delhi and Kabul have insisted on multiple occasions that they are willing to accommodate Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. President Karzai said after the signing of the agreement that the new partnership with India was not meant as a form of aggression toward Pakistan. One hopes that in spite of the criticisms the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued of the strategic pact, the country will see reason in adopting a mature and rational Afghan policy. As one Afghan political leader in Kandahar said to me, "if Pakistan has to compete with India in gaining good will among the Afghans, it has to be on the plank of reconstruction and development, and not acts of subversion and selective assassinations or providing sanctuaries [to militants]."
No commentary on Indian-Afghan relations would be complete without addressing the most pressing question: Can India sustain or even expand its activities in Afghanistan beyond the NATO withdrawal date in 2014? The strategic agreement has provided a much-needed mechanism for a continued relationship beyond this deadline, without being subjected to the vagaries of future governments in Kabul or New Delhi, or to the prevailing regional security environment. For Afghans it is surely a sign that India is a reliable partner who has stepped in firmly when the West seems to be in a hurry to quit.
Dr. Shanthie Mariet D'Souza is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views reflected in the paper are those of the author and not of the Institute.
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Last May I asked Major General Niaz Muhammad Khan Khattak, the Deputy Director of the ISI, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, about his organization's links with the Haqqani Network. "If you always focus on the mosaic," he said, pointing to the Afghan rug in his sumptuous office, "that's all you'll see." Today it doesn't matter how Washington looks at this mosaic - as transnational terrorism or as Pakistan's anti-India partner in Afghanistan - one thing is certain: elements within the ISI help fighters belonging to the Haqqani Network who kill American soldiers. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is a tinderbox, one spark - U.S. soldiers on Pakistani territory or the Haqqanis killing dozens of American troops - could ignite war.
That spark may be more plausible than we think. Recent détente is encouraging but only a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the ISI to facilitate talks between Washington and reconcilable Haqqanis, and yet warned of "dire consequences" for Islamabad if the Pakistani military did not take action against the Haqqanis who are unwilling to negotiate. The Pakistani response was "yes" to talks, but "no" to military operations. Today, thousands of American troops are in the Haqqani Network's crosshairs in eastern Afghanistan during efforts to root out Haqqani militants, such as Operation Steel Rain in Khowst. Unless Pakistani generals act against the Haqqani Network's sanctuary in North Waziristan, which they have refused to do so far, American casualties will increase. In that case, there will be tremendous pressure on Congress and the White House to act unilaterally, quite possibly by putting boots on the ground.
What will happen if helicopters carrying American Seals are shot down in North Waziristan? How will America respond to a major attack that kills 100 troops in Afghanistan, like the September attack that wounded 77 soldiers in east Kabul? What if the perpetrators escape to Karachi, beyond the range of drones? What if American boots trigger a mutiny in the Pakistani army, leading to civil war? How will Washington secure Pakistani nuclear weapons?
Unfortunately, many of these dangerous scenarios are increasingly likely. A Pakistani official has told me that American-supplied Pakistani F-16 fighters are on high alert against a probable US raid. In March, Pakistani Air Force had orders to shoot down US predator and reaper drones. Last year, Islamabad shut down NATO's largest supply line for days, and three years ago, General Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, ordered fire on a US helicopter carrying U.S. Special Forces that had crossed into North Waziristan. The Pakistani parliament, political parties and the media are supportive of the army's sentiments against the United States, but not against the Haqqanis. Anti-Americanism, always high, has reached unprecedented levels within the military's ranks, especially amongst junior officers. This is because most young officers are unaware of the past deals their generals have made with the Americans, and some may act independently in the name of national pride against an American incursion into Pakistan to target militants.
The United States is failing to change Pakistani public opinion because many Pakistanis are oblivious to American good will, and ambivalent about American aid as well as reconciliation with the insurgents. They hear about aid cuts and Americans talking to the same insurgents Pakistanis are asked to kill. Pakistani generals and politicians support such public confusion and often blame Washington for Pakistan's problems in order to cover up their own incompetence and corruption. More than 10 years and $20 billion worth of military and civilian aid has bought Washington the heads of top al-Qaeda leaders, the elimination of critical safe havens (Swat valley and South Waziristan), but not the Quetta Shura in Balochistan or the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.
At the same time, since 9/11 more than 30,000 Pakistanis have been victims of terrorism, of which 6,000 were soldiers and policemen. The city of Karachi, which contributes half of Pakistan's national income, is home to a brutal ethnic war, and resurgent Balochi militants and Sindhi flood victims are overstretching the military and an incompetent civilian government. Hyperinflation of food and energy prices, water shortages, massive floods, proliferating terrorists groups, and a fast-growing nuclear program are fast making Pakistan a threat to itself and the world.
To make matters worse, the Pakistan-based Haqqanis are killing American soldiers and disrupting the Afghan peace process, with what the United States says is support from the ISI. Clearly, US military aid cuts have done little to alter the ISI's support for the Haqqanis. Instead, General Kayani is rallying troops and political parties against expected U.S. raids into North Waziristan. He is pressing Washington's weakest point: threatening to close crucial supply routes to Afghanistan, without which there would be massive NATO fuel and ammunition shortages. It would take months, and improbable negotiations with the Russians, to get a viable alternative to the "Northern Supply Network."
It is not just a matter of Pakistani will, but also Pakistani capabilities. There is great need for American helicopters and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and yes, some American boots on the ground in the form of trainers and advisers. Even if Pakistani generals decide to attack the Haqqanis, they no longer have resources to clear and hold North Waziristan, and contain the blowback that could come in the form of a national suicide bombing wave.
In 2009, suicide attacks increased by 220 percent from the previous year (from ten to 32), targeting major cities: Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. This placed massive strains on poorly equipped national police forces. The same year, riding on an anti-insurgent public opinion wave, Pakistani commandoes, Frontier Scouts and 11th Corps infantry men - many trained and equipped by the United States - broke the insurgents' back in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. Today the Pakistani Army has no public support for a military operation against the Haqqanis. Furthermore, the population's opposition to the Pakistani Taliban - public enemy no. 1 in 2009 - is fading.
That was not always the case. In the summer of 2010, Pakistan's Commanding General for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, told me, "like Swat and South Waziristan [in 2009] with the help of the Pakistani public we will clean out North Waziristan this winter ." However, Pakistani intransigence regarding the Haqqanis, devastating floods, the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of two Pakistanis in Lahore by an American spy made the operation in North Waziristan impossible.
To renew ties we must start by replicating the 2009 conditions. American development dollars, weapons and trainers were flying in and al-Qaeda members were flying out or shot dead. U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, who rightly chides Pakistan today, said referring to the Pakistani surge against Pakistani Taliban that he "couldn't give the Pakistani Army anything but an 'A'." But absent a national narrative against the Haqqanis that unites Pakistanis, carved out of a transparent partnership with the United States, both countries may slip into war. Time is running out.
Haider Ali Hussein Mullick is the author of Pakistan's Security Paradox: Countering & Fomenting Insurgencies. Mullick advised General (r) David H. Petraeus on Pakistan in 2009 and 2010. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.(www.haidermullick.com)
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With U.S. relations in Pakistan at a low point and the two countries' strategic disagreement over priorities in Afghanistan on full display, it is time to review U.S. strategic options. One that deserves a close look is a grand bargain: give Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan - but on two conditions: Pakistan assumes responsibility for preventing terrorism out of Afghanistan, and Pakistan agrees to settle Kashmir along the present geographic lines. This is not a panacea, nor would it be easy to execute. But it addresses the principal stumbling block to the current U.S. strategy, and provides an incentive to settle the region's longest-running dispute.
For the past decade, U.S. policy has been based on the assumption that the United States and Pakistan shared the strategic goal of extirpating from the leadership of Afghanistan the Taliban and allied terrorist forces. This objective was at the heart of the partnership struck after 9/11. As with the two previous major U.S.-Pakistan partnerships, in the 1950s/60s and in the 1980s, the assumption of strategic agreement was at best only half true, and the differences between the two countries' goals have become increasingly difficult to paper over. This time, Pakistan's desire to ensure what its army chief has referred to as "a friendly government" in Kabul - meaning a government deferential to Pakistan and impervious to Indian influence - has intensified, especially since the beginning of 2011. During that time, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship was devastated by the aftereffects of the shooting of two Pakistanis by CIA contractor Raymond Davis and his subsequent arrest, by the raid that killed Osama bin Ladin, and by the harsh public criticism of Pakistan by retiring U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen.
The two governments have been trying to salvage some working elements of partnership. However, their ability to work together toward a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, badly strained by conflicting goals, was for practical purposes ended by the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Karzai government's designated representative for peace initiatives toward the Afghan Taliban. This was not the first time Pakistan's insistence on controlling negotiations inside Afghanistan had trumped its stated policy of supporting the Afghan government's negotiating role, but this incident has brought tentative peace feelers, already rickety, to a virtual halt.
Washington's response to this situation has been to seek a stronger basis for working with Pakistan. This reflects U.S. recognition of Pakistan's critical importance to peace in the region and to Afghanistan's future - as well as the major U.S. stake in nuclear-armed Pakistan's own political and economic health. These are indeed important considerations - but it does not follow that the U.S. should continue on essentially the same path that has repeatedly come up short.
There are two other strategic options: treat Pakistan as a hostile power, and try to impose an acceptable solution in Afghanistan in the teeth of Pakistani efforts to control the process; or build a strategy that allows Pakistan to have the major say in Afghanistan, but on conditions that protect U.S. strategic interests and give Pakistan a strong incentive to respect them. We believe that forcing an acceptable solution is almost certain to fail. It would depend, unrealistically, on the effectiveness of an intra-Afghan negotiating process and of the government that would follow. It would also presuppose, equally implausibly, that Afghanistan would remain able to withstand the Pakistani effort to upset the settlement that would surely follow.
The strategic alternative that remains is a grand bargain, initially between Pakistan and the United States, but eventually involving India. The major elements would be:
A deal along these lines would hand Pakistan one of its primary strategic objectives, but at a price Pakistanis would find very hard to swallow. Kashmir has a much tighter hold on the national heartstrings than Afghanistan. However, in practice Pakistan has lost its chance of gaining Kashmir, and many Pakistanis privately acknowledge this. They are well aware that for years, Pakistan's efforts have done nothing to remove India's hold on the state, and have succeeded only in deepening hostility and making the region less secure for everyone, including Pakistan.
Securing Pakistan against its military leaders' nightmare of an Indian threat from both east and west provides a strategic gain, especially when coupled with a possible Kashmir agreement that could lay the groundwork for transforming the hostile relationship with India into one that was merely chilly but improving. The bigger problem may be how to ensure that these gains are maintained. Afghanistan has never had sustained good relations with Pakistan, and may once again look to India as a balancer - an all too willing one - when it tires of being guided by Pakistan. And on the Kashmir side, even if the Pakistan government and its army agree to negotiate peace with India - by no means a sure bet - the militant movement in Pakistan includes many spoilers who will try to stir up trouble in Kashmir or elsewhere in India, providing acute temptation to the army to join in.
These difficulties make the grand bargain described here a long shot. Using military and economic aid as leverage might increase Pakistan's motivation to keep the bargain, though this is a tactic that has only worked for short periods in the past, and has never succeeded in dissuading Pakistan from following major strategic interests. To improve the odds, the United States would need to seek other international support, appealing to the desire of Pakistan's international friends to improve Pakistan's long term economic and security prospects. Bringing China at least tacitly on board would be the ideal. Other players would be the European aid donors, and some of Pakistan's Arab benefactors. The United States would also have to expend some diplomatic capital to dissuade India from trying to upset the balance in Afghanistan, noting that the U.S. had promoted a Kashmir settlement on terms quite favorable to India, and that reducing India's profile in Afghanistan had to be seen in that context.
But considering the results of ten years of engagement, and the tremendous risks flowing from a "hostile Pakistan" strategy, the long shot starts to look like the best available strategic bet.
Teresita Schaffer is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Howard Schaffer is Senior Counselor at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University. Both are retired U.S. ambassadors with long experience in South Asia. They are co-directors of http://southasiahand.com.
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