Sunday, December 14, 2008

The road to Kabul runs through Islamabad

In "From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan" (Foreign Affairs, Nov./Dec. '08), Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid argue that only a regional diplomatic initiative that changes Pakistan's calculations can lead to a long-term solution in Afghanistan. They propose, among other things, the establishment of a UN-authorized contact group to facilitate dialogue, especially between India and Pakistan, on the issues of Afghanistan and Kashmir.
"A central purpose of the contact group would be to assure Pakistan that the international community is committed to its territorial integrity -- and to help resolve the Afghan and Kashmir border issues so as to better define Pakistan's territory.... [This] might encourage Pakistan to promote, rather than hinder, an internationally and nationally acceptable political settlement in Afghanistan. Backing up the contact group's influence and clout must be the threat that any breaking of agreements or support for terrorism originating in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] would be taken to the UN Security Council. Pakistan, the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, sees itself as a legitimate international power, rather than a spoiler; confronted with the potential loss of that status, it would compromise."
Although I don't recall that Rubin and Rashid explicitly say this (although they may, since the article meanders around a bit and I read it a while ago), one aspect of a diplomatic strategy might be to offer Pakistan a nuclear deal similar to the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, on condition that Pakistan take a more vigorously constructive and helpful stance toward the U.S./NATO position in Afghanistan. Now that the A.Q. Khan network has stopped functioning, even if Khan himself remains something of a revered figure in certain Pakistani quarters, there is no principled reason to deny Pakistan the same sort of nuclear arrangement that India has with the U.S. (Concerns about the long-term stability of the civilian government, however, admittedly might be a complicating factor.)

In addition to the contact group proposal, Rubin and Rashid urge driving a wedge -- or furthering the already-begun estrangement -- between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. A pledge by the Taliban to dissociate themselves and any territory they control from any global jihadist activity, in return for cessation of military operations against them, "could constitute a framework for negotiation." And any regional "grand bargain," whatever its precise terms, must, they emphasize, also take into account the interests, and mobilize the cooperation, of China, Russia, and Iran.


hank_F_M said...


Nice article. Thanks.

A couple things.

There is no more a political solution in Afghanistan alone than there is a military solution in Afghanistan alone. Good advice.

Afghanistan is a land locked country. There are three ways in and out. Iran is out of the question. The other two are the CIS and Pakistan. This gives either Russia or Pakistan or both together a lot of potential leverage (pretty much a veto of what they consider major issues) in affecting our polices.

All these countries have oppositions to the government and as the article pointed out P & A have virtually autonomous areas in the country. In India a change of government would honor properly approved agreements. In the other two I am not so sure especially if the new people come to power in a coup. And the various factions and autonomous areas may (and some will) see no advantage in supporting an agreement and possible some in sabotaging it. Can we really get an agreement with sufficient support beyond the formal governments?

They speak of reducing hostilities has a precondition to success but in many areas defeating the local opposition is the precondition to reducing hostilities.

I think any thing that could be called success is going to take a lot longer and cost a lot more than anyone is willing to commit.

LFC said...

"Can we really get an agreement with sufficient support beyond the formal governments?"
Yes, this is a key question that Rubin & Rashid don't address in as much depth as they should, imo.
I think R & R are aware of the real possibility that nothing might work, but they could have framed the argument to acknowledge this more forthrightly -- i.e., "Look, there are no easy, cheap solutions, and in the end nothing might work, but what we are proposing represents the best chance for an acceptable outcome." I think that's basically what they're saying.