1. Afghanistan Weekly Reader: Perspectives on the Peace Process

    Published: January 5th, 2012

    The announcement that the Taliban will open a political office in Qatar in exchange for the release of Taliban officials from Guantanamo Bay has been alternately hailed as a dramatic breakthough and criticized as a surrender. Whatever the spin, this development indicates that the process for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is moving forward. Unfortunately, U.S. military involvement in the region is far from over and strong support still remains for maintaining troop levels through 2014 and after.  Although U.S. troops are expected to shift to an advisory role over the next year, peace negotiations are progressing slowly as the cost of war continues to increase.

    From ASG
    Withdraw Troops From Afghanistan But Stay Engaged
    Afghanistan Study Group by Mary Kaszynski

    Bringing the troops home is not retreat, and it is not abandonment. It is simply the first step towards a more effective Afghanistan policy and a smarter, more responsible defense budget.

    US army’s new Afghan nightmare – how to ship $30bn of kit
    The Guardian by Jon Boone
    The US army has begun the massive task of withdrawing $30bn (£19bn) worth of military equipment from Afghanistan three years before most Nato troops leave, with logisticians warning of complications from the lack of decent roads and the nightmarish geography of a landlocked country surrounded by states that are either fickle American allies or outright enemies.

    A long goodbye to Afghanistan
    LA Times by Doyle MacManus
    The Afghanistan withdrawal won’t be anywhere near as final as the one we just saw [in Iraq]. U.S. military leaders are working on a new slimmed-down strategy that would keep some American troops in combat against the Taliban for years to come, long after 2014.

    Military Advice and Policy Decisions
    National Interest by Paul Pillar
    If General Allen understands his mission to be stabilization of Afghanistan and the continuation in power of the Afghan government of the day, he should provide his best advice as to what forces are needed to accomplish that mission. And if whoever is the U.S. president in 2014 determines that accomplishing that mission is not sufficiently critical to U.S. interests to warrant extending a U.S. military expedition that would have already gone on for thirteen years, he should overrule the general’s advice.

    2011 Reflections: What happened to the US debate on Afghanistan?
    CS Monitor by Ben Arnoldy
    Should the war run for three more Christmases? That question can be answered in various ways. But as someone who has just returned to the US, I simply want it to be asked here.
    As I enjoy the peace of this holiday season, so removed from the conflict zone I recently experienced, I remind myself that we should spare a few thoughts for those who won’t be home for the holidays – and consider why exactly that is.

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  2. The GOP Candidates on the Afghanistan War: “I can’t, …. I can’t, sorry. Oops.”

    Published: November 15th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Ninety-seven thousand (97,000) US troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan, but you might never have known that from Saturday’s debate. The Republican presidential candidates were eager to talk Iran and Pakistan, but generally fumbled their way through the few questions presented to them on Afghanistan. Here’s a breakdown of what they said – and what they should have said.

    Rick Perry: Perry’s Afghanistan strategy seems to be to give as few strategic details as possible. Asserting vaguely that “The mission must be completed there,” Perry went on to say that “The idea that we will have wasted our treasure and the lives of young Americans to not secure Afghanistan is not appropriate.” If it were up to Perry, it seems that much more blood and treasure will be spent for the nebulous goal of securing Afghanistan.

    Perry also ridiculed the idea of a drawdown timeline as “irresponsible”. Perry isn’t alone in this belief, and it’s not without strategic merit. But those who oppose a timeline are forgetting two things. First, contrary to what Perry says, the US is not “in conflict with” Afghanistan – Afghanistan is our ally in the fight against terrorism. It may seem like a technicality, but it’s important. Treating Afghanistan like an ally and partner surely means letting them in on our withdrawal plans. Secondly, the American people are paying for this war, with their lives and their taxes. Policymakers should be accountable to the public for their Afghanistan strategy, and that includes a drawdown timeline.

    According to a recent CBS poll, 53% of Americans support a drawdown. Perry would do well to listen to the public.

    Rick Santorum: Santorum certainly has a vision for victory in Afgahnistan: “The Taliban is a neutered force. They are no longer a security threat Afghan people, to our country. That would be victory.” Whether that vision is achievable at a viable cost is another question.

    With Afghanistan out of the way, Santorum pivoted rather abruptly to “the bigger issue.” “This is the most important national security issue that we’re gonna be dealing with here in this year,” he said. “And that’s the issue of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.”

    It’s worth noting that both Perry and Santorum were clearly more interested in talking about Iran than Afghanistan. Perry used half of his allotted time for Afgahnistan wrapping up his comments on Iran. Moderator Scott Pelley gave Santorum a break, acknowledging that Santorum was more interested in Iran, and actually posed Iran and Afghanistan questions simultaneously. Perhaps he suspected Santorum was going to talk about Iran no matter what the question was.

    Michelle Bachmann: Let’s give Rep. Bachmann the benefit of the doubt and assume that when she referred to “the decision that by next September, our troops will be withdrawn” she meant the surge force will be withdrawn. That is the current administration’s plan – return to pre-surge levels of 68,000 by summer 2012 and transition to local security forces by the end of 2014.

    Rep. Bachmann then made an interesting leap. If the drawdown progresses as planned, “How do we expect any of our allies to continue to work to– with us?” It’s unclear what exactly she means by this. Britain, France, and Germany have already announced plans to follow the US lead in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

    Bachmann concluded by asking “How can we even begin to seek the peace with the Haqqani Network that are in the eastern regions?” Again, this is an inexplicable leap. The presence of US soldiers and Marines has done little to facilitate the peace process thus far and this seems unlikely to change.

    Jon Huntsman: Once again, Huntsman has shown that he can he articulate a clear stance on Afghanistan, he will stick to that position (Perry should be taking notes).

    Huntsman laid out the mission:

    “I say this nation has achieved its key objectives in Afghanistan. We’ve had free elections in 2004. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. We’ve dismantled Al Qaeda. We have killed Osama bin Laden.”
    He showed that he understands current priorities:
    “I say this nation’s future is not Afghanistan. This nation’s future is not Iraq. This nation’s future is how prepared we are to meet the 21st Century competitive challenges. That’s economic and that’s education. And that’s gonna play out over the Asia-Pacific region. And we’re either prepared for that reality or we’re not. I don’t want to be nation building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs to be built.”

    And he even outlined defense requirements:

    “We still have work to do. We don’t need 100,000 troops nation building, many of whom can’t cross the wire. I think we need a component that gathers tactical intelligence. We need enhanced special forces, response capability for rapid response. And we need some ongoing commitment to train the local Afghan National Army.

    That’s not 100,000 troops. That’s well south of that. We are fighting an asymmetric threat, a counterterror threat. Not only there, but in Waziristan and every other corner of the world. And we need to prepare for that as a reality of our 21st Century foreign policy.”

    Mitt Romney: After floundering on Afghanistan policy early in his campaign, Romney seems to have come up with an answer he’s happy with: “Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by December. And the timetable, by the end of 2014, is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces.”

    It’s hard not to see this answer as trying to appeal to a broad base. On the one hand, by critiquing the timeline for surge troops, he differentiates his position from the administration, and appeals to traditional hawks. But by sticking to the 2014 date, he can appeal to the fiscally minded, and the ever growing segment of the public that wants a drawdown.

    All in all, not a bad answer – but not a great answer either.

    Newt Gingrich: After the vagaries and equivocations of the other candidates, the former speaker of the House was refreshingly straightforward. “I think this is so much bigger and deeper a problem than we’ve talked about as a country that we– we don’t have a clue how hard this is gonna be,” Gingrich said. He was referring to the strategic complexities of fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan and a shadow war in Pakistan, but his point applies to Afghanistan policy as a whole. How hard will it be to “secure Afghanistan”? Will it take another ten years and a trillion dollars? Anyone who wants to stay in Afghanistan should consider these questions carefully.

    Herman Cain: Cain’s contribution to the discussion of Afghanistan policy was limited to noting how complicated it is. “There is a lot of clarity this whole region,” he said. Asked whether he would send US forces into Pakistan “to clear out those safe havens of the enemy,”
    Cain replied, “That is a decision that I would make after consulting with the commanders on the ground, our intelligence sources, after having discussions with Pakistan, discussions with Afghanistan. And here’s why. We pointed out earlier that it is unclear as to where we stand with Pakistan. It is unclear where we stand with Afghanistan.” A diplomatic answer, perhaps, but one would like a presidential candidate to have a greater command of the details.

    Cain finished with a valid point: “Victory is not clearly defined.” But you have to wonder if he would be able to follow through on his promise to “make sure that the mission is clear, and the definition of victory’s clear.” He certainly wasn’t able to articulate a clear mission in the debate.

    Overall, it was a disappointing showing from the GOP candidates. When they weren’t fuzzy on the details, they were dismissive. The 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan probably would not agree with Cain’s assertion that Afghanistan is less important than Iran or Pakistan. They, and all Americans, deserve better answers.

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  3. Navigating the Afghanistan Peace Process: It’s Going to be a Bumpy Road

    Published: October 26th, 2011
    Author: Mary Kaszynski

    Mary Kaszynski
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    “I don’t know any peace process that hasn’t been a bumpy process,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her trip to the Middle East last week. Her words proved timely. US-Afghanistan relations encountered a bump not two days later, when President Karzai said that Afghanistan would back Pakistan in the event of a US-Pakistan war.

    During her visit to Kabul, Sec. Clinton (never known for pulling punches when it comes to Pakistan) sent a “clear, unequivocal message to the government and the people of Pakistan that they must be part of the solution. And that means ridding their country of terrorists who kill their own people and who cross the border to kill in Afghanistan.”

    Karzai agreed, which is why his comments Sunday came as something of a surprise. “Perplexing,” some called it; Others a “rhetorical flourish.” However, the US State Department says it’s irrelevant: “It is not an issue, because it [a war] is not going to happen.”

    The explanation for Karzai’s remarks is simple, according to Afghan officials: they were misinterpreted. Karzai was referring to Pakistan’s accepting Afghani refugees, and indicating that if there were ever a need, Afghanistan would return the favor.

    It’s hardly surprising that Karzai would distance himself from the statement. In addition to the reaction he got from the West, his remarks must have raised a few eyebrows in New Delhi. India and Afghanistan recently announced a strategic framework for cooperation on a number of issues – security, but also trade, education and social ties.

    The episode was a perfect example of the complexities surrounding multi-state peace negotiations in the Af-Pak region. Afghanistan is trying to reach out to both its neighbors – which is essential if we’re to achieve peace and stability in the region – while maintaining its relationship with the US. In this case, Karzai’s attempt to show solidarity with Pakistan backfired with Western allies.

    The takeaway for the US is that the flare-up of this past weekend is typical of the peace process. As Afghanistan and Pakistan step up to the negotiating table, and take on responsibilities for regional security, we may not like everything that comes out of the process. In fact, we will have to “get realistic” about our own goals, accepting that there will be bumps along the way, and that we may not always be driving.

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  4. Reconciling the Afghan Analyst Network

    Published: July 2nd, 2011
    Author: Edward Kenney

    Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

    How confident should we be that the supposed reconciliation talks are going to succeed?  Why don’t we check with the folks from the Afghan Analysts Network?

    Thomas Ruttig is not too optimistic:

    It is even not clear whether every actor involved in the [Taliban peace talks] really wants peace: The US military continues to try crushing the Taliban militarily and possibly to avoid substantial talks. The Taliban have started their own kill campaign of key Afghan security forces leaders, particularly of Northern provenience.

    This analysis comes after a recent Karzai speech in which the president declared ongoing peace talks for the first time between the U.S. and Taliban, a move that was widely portrayed positively in western media.  In Afghanistan, as Ruttig’s observations epitomize, things are seldom what they seem:  Karzai’s emphasis on American led negotiations directly contradicts the State Department’s repeated assurances that any peace deal will be Afghan led.  Then there is a little matter of the Tayyab Agha talks in Berlin, which were allegedly leaked to journalists from the presidential palace.

    Ruttig concludes:  Every day on which they do not seriously work towards genuine and inclusive talks, with the Taliban and those who oppose them, armed or not, diminishes the chances for a peaceful solution.

    Compared to Ruttig, Ahmad Shuja, a guest blogger for the Afghan Analysts Network, is slightly more optimistic.  Shuja has been following former Northern Alliance intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, who has been one of the most vocal opponents of a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, at one point going so far as to lead protests against prospective peace talks.   Shuja sees Saleh changing his tune in a recent op-ed, and opening the door a crack for prospective talks:

    In this new language, Saleh is indicating a shift from his previous position of adamantly opposing any kind of talks with the Taliban… Saleh has been one of the leaders of a movement against talks with the Taliban and is thought to have lost his job as NDS chief because of a disagreement on this subject with President Karzai.

    This new rhetoric is an improvement, albeit a marginal one.  Many of Saleh’s demands seem a little far fetched, such as his insistence that the Taliban disarm or pushing for investigations into human rights abuses over the past twenty years (a timeframe which includes the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s).   Sounds like a good idea, except that virtually all of the perpetrators remain in key positions of power.   I’m not sure that either the Afghan government or the Taliban will ever embrace Saleh’s views.

    But not to worry, if reconciliation doesn’t work out, at least we still have a successful “reintegration program” to fall back on.  Just listen to this glowing endorsement from a recently reintegrated Taliban fighter:

    “In the last five months I have received none of what they promised me: no salary, no good accommodations. Those who are fighting now say: ‘Your men are jobless. What have you achieved?’ ”

    God save us.

    I’ll leave former British Ambassador Sherard Cowper- Coles with the last word on reconciliation from his brilliant interview with LA Times:  When asked whether a reduction of forces will improve chances at a peace deal, here was the Ambassador’s response:

    It’s a question of showing the Taliban you’re serious about wanting an honorable peace for all the internal parties to the Afghan conflict [and] also all the regional parties…. The Taliban know that they’re not going to win total victory; they know they’re never again going to rule the whole of Afghanistan.”

    Right now, there is a surplus of rhetoric (most of it self-serving crazy talk) and a deficit of trust.  As Ambassador Cowper-Coles correctly illustrates, for any peace deal to have a remote chance of success, this dynamic has to change.

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  5. More on the Sangin Deal

    Published: January 10th, 2011

    In a recent post, Afghanistan Study Group Director Matt Hoh gave a relatively optimistic take on the recent peace deal in Sangin province and highlighted the importance of reaching these types of deals at the local level, which can begin to establish regional autonomy, security and governance.

    It is important not to overstate this achievement.  First it is not clear that the Taliban were privy to this deal-making.  From the fragmentary news reports, it seems the marines made a deal with Alikozai village elders, a tribal group with a long history of independence from both the Taliban and the Kabul government.  Indeed some reports suggest that the Taliban has actively targeted this group precisely because of its “independence” from the Taliban.  Yesterday, an Alikozai leader was shot by the Taliban in Sangin Province—likely a reprisal for the deal made with the Americans.

    Another potential problem Hoh writes is that:

    similar settlements must occur at other political levels and the current political and governance system must be amended to incorporate the results of the deal and to sustain those results.

    At the National level, it remains highly doubtful that province by province deal making will last.  Indeed, the U.S. should well heed the lessons of the British who achieved a similar peace deal in 2006 only to see a stronghold in the province fall to the Taliban in 2006.

    The deal may prove to be an important test for regional governance, but it should not (yet) be construed as a game changer.

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  6. If…

    Published: January 6th, 2011

    Several media outlets, including The Guardian and McClatchey, reported this week that US Marines in one of the most violent districts in Helmand Province, Sangin, have, through 25 days of negotiations, reached a deal with local tribal leaders.  It is too early to know whether this deal is even real and, if it is, whether it will last.  Moreover, it is possible this deal could make things worse, particularly if the local negotiates are enriched or empowered in greater proportion to or at the expense of other local groups or powerbrokers left out of the arrangement; such support or favoritism could push other factions to the Taliban or exacerbate existing tribal or local rivalries.  Similar deals have been brokered in Helmand before, as well as other parts of Afghanistan, but have fallen through for multiple reasons, including a lack of commitment and dedication of resources by the Afghan government and NATO forces, and due to the trappings and pitfalls to Western military officers and diplomats of a foreign, complex and dynamic tribal, sub-tribal, familial, valley and village political system entangled in three decades of war.

    At this time details are limited, so it is impossible to know the particulars or the underpinnings of the deal, but there are a few reasons to be optimistic*.  First, this may signal a willingness by Western military leadership to allow subordinate commanders to negotiate directly and authoritatively with tribal and insurgent leadership.  It will be interesting to see the extent that American and British civilian political officers were involved with the negotiations and who actually represented the Afghan central government and security forces.  If this deal and other deals are to be sustained, such agreements will have to be arranged with the Afghan central government to include the tribal and local leadership in the central government at local, district and provincial levels.  Additionally, will we see an increased inclusion of local men in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) or acceptance of the ANSF by the local population? Presently, southern Pashtuns are incredibly under-represented in the security forces and the security forces, particularly the army, are viewed as outsiders in southern Afghanistan.  Or will the local leadership be allowed to establish their own security forces, à la the Sons of Iraq?   The Sons of Iraq movement, along with the Sunni Awakening, was successful in diminishing the insurgency and reducing violence in Iraq, not because they rose up to fight the insurgency, but because they were the insurgency.  Further, if local deals like this are to be brokered throughout the country and are to be successful long term, similar negotiated settlements must occur at provincial, regional and national levels.  This must include some form of reformation of the government and constitution to incorporate such power sharing agreements and to broaden the umbrella of the political process.

    It is also encouraging that this deal may have been with leaders that were currently supporting the Taliban or are members of the Taliban.  This diverges from previous limitations on negotiations encumbered with preconditions that basically called for the insurgents to surrender first or that stereotyped the insurgency as a monolithic, jihadist, trans-national terrorist cause, much as we did with the Sunni insurgency in Iraq from 2003-2006.  Understanding the insurgency as being composed of multiple, local groups, many of which possess legitimate local political grievances or support the Taliban because they feel disenfranchised or preyed upon by local or national rivals who have been empowered and enriched by an occupying third power, is a first step in splitting the insurgency, weakening the Taliban’s political and military momentum, and marginalizing and weakening non-reconcilable groups; a process we finally adopted with the Sunni insurgency in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 and one we should have adopted years ago in Afghanistan.

    This deal also demonstrates to southern Pashtun leadership that there is a third option outside of the foreign backed Kabul government and the Taliban.  For too long we have allowed the southern Pashtuns only two choices: Either submit and accept rule that generates from a corrupt and predatory regime in Kabul, propped up by Western occupiers and composed primarily of ethnic, tribal and regional rivals or support the Taliban.  If this deal allows for some semblance of autonomy and a control in local affairs (presence of security forces, involvement with development projects, composition of district council and leadership, etc), albeit with both military and financial support, then local leaders in the South will be allowed a third choice, one that will weaken the overall strength of the Taliban, decrease violence and increase stability through the implementation of a legitimate and accepted local political order. Again, however, if this is to work and to hold long term, similar settlements must occur at other political levels and the current political and governance system must be amended to incorporate the results of the deal and to sustain those results.

    If this deal is real, if it somehow avoids the hazards of constructing an agreement that has bedeviled previous attempts at negotiation, if it avoids enflaming existing rivalries (to make a simple American reference: not strengthening the Hatfields over the McCoys), if it lasts and is sustainable, and if it signals a policy shift by the West towards direct negotiations and a more forceful political process as opposed to a hopelessly military dominated approach that basically attempts subjugation of a rural population, then this report is very good news and this deal is the right and smart way to start off the New Year.

    *I still fail to see the intrinsic worth or necessity to US vital national interests in occupying southern Afghanistan and participating in another nation’s civil war, particularly as our actions fail to have an effect on Al-Qaeda’s operations and organization.

    Matthew Hoh,
    Director Afghanistan Study Group


  7. 11/12/2010 Afghanistan Update: No Games in December, Let’s Have a Real Review

    Published: November 15th, 2010
    Author: Edward Kenney

    Edward Kenney
    Afghanistan Study Group Blogger

    Afghanistan Update 11/12/10:  Council on Foreign Relations Releases Af-Pak Review

    The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) has just published a policy paper on U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The 70 page report documents the challenges the U.S faces in the region; it puts the Afghan war in a regional context and provides recommendations for policymakers going forward.  This is an important document that contributes to a needed and necessary debate on the US strategy in Afghanistan.  However, as with most major strategy reviews, the paper has both strengths and weaknesses.

    On the plus side, the paper is very forthright about the challenges facing the U.S. in Afghanistan.  In particular the report cites the rising violence, the lack of popular support for the Afghan government, and weak political institutions as major road blocks to a successful military strategy.  Although CFR endorses the Obama approach, it is a “qualified endorsement”.  Most significantly, the report recommends a real December Strategic Review.

    “If [ the] review shows that progress is not being made, the United States should move quickly to recalibrate its military presence in Afghanistan.”

    This brings up an important weakness in the paper.  It asks the question “has there been progress in Afghanistan?”; but it does not really answer it.  Given the evidence presented through news sources, several of the metrics presented in this paper to gage progress have seen deterioration.  There has been little progress in “building local security and civilian capabilities” even in areas where the military offensive has garnered some positive results. Although areas of Kandahar have seen some security gains, the insurgency remains as potent as ever.  The report acknowledges that 2010 will be the most violent year of the war.  Meanwhile the government remains as corrupt as ever.  The lone bright spot seems to be the training of the Afghan National Army, but Afghanistan won’t be able to take over security from NATO forces until 2014 according to NATO’s civilian commander.

    Based on this evidence, you would think the CFR would spend more time discussing feasible alternatives to the current strategy.  Instead, their portrayal of the alternative “light footprint” strategy is incredibly pessimistic.  The paper claims (p.58) that a light footprint would empower global terrorist networks, lead to a destabilizing civil war, and possibly escalate into a full-scale nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan.  There are problems with the assumptions the paper makes; but if you do make these assumptions, it is hard to then argue for a “recalibration” of strategy in the next section.

    Perhaps the most disappointing section of the paper is on U.S. strategic objectives.  In one of my previous posts I said there was a growing consensus that al Qaeda does not pose a security risk to Afghanistan.  Put simply, al Qaeda is unlikely to leave its relatively safe sanctuaries in Pakistan.  This argument has been made by experts such as Afghanistan Study Group Member Paul Pillar and Counter-Insurgency strategist David Kilcullen.  The Council on Foreign Relations is behind on this issue, arguing

    “The United States needs to stop Afghanistan from once again becoming a sanctuary for these groups…if the Taliban consolidates its position in large portions of Afghanistan, it could create new space for these dangerous groups to plan attacks against the United States”

    There is a lot here that is manifestly wrong.  First, terrorists already have a sanctuary in Pakistan so it is hard to see how a Taliban victory would affect the operations of the group.  More worrisome, this passage shows a fundamental lack of understanding on how these terrorist groups operate.  They recruit members globally.  The idea is not to gain territorial “space”, but rather to connect various radical groups to a common cause.  Forcing al Qaeda off of a piece of territory does nothing.  The U.S forced al Qaeda out of Sudan in the 1990s, but guess what, the group still had “space” to “plan attacks” on 9-11.

    A serious strategic objective discussed at length in the paper, is preventing civil war in Pakistan:

    Turmoil in Afghanistan—possibly even a bloody civil war—could produce a refugee crisis, draw in regional competitors, and destabilize Pakistan and the region”.

    This is purportedly a description of “what could happen” if the Taliban gain a stronghold, although it seems to describe the war environment today.   The real question is whether regional stability is enhanced by large NATO forces in Afghanistan or hindered by it.  Most evidence suggests the latter as foreign occupying forces and drone strikes fuel radicalism in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Ensuring that Afghanistan does not devolve into a bloody civil war is, however, a legitimate concern.  The Afghanistan Study Group argues that a “fast track” peace and reconciliation process is the key to avoiding civil conflict.  This is one area where the CFR report makes two interesting and useful arguments.  Firstly they argue for a more broad-based peace council:

    The present Karzai led reconciliation process is insufficiently representative of the wide spectrum of Afghan interests.  It is raising fears among many of these groups and spurring concerns throughout the region, particularly India.  The process requires greater U.S. guidance and regional consensus building”

    This blog has long argued for a more inclusive reconciliation process.  For example, participation of women in the Peace Jirga to ensure safeguarding of women’s rights.  With that said, there is a danger of having too broad a peace council.  With too many opposing interests a peace deal may be harder to reach.  In general this recommendation makes sense.

    Secondly they argue that reconciliation and constitutional reform should go hand in hand.

    “The national reconciliation process also offers a potential opening for constitutional reform.  Insurgent leaders have explicitly rejected the present constitution and are unlikely to reenter Afghan politics without certain amendments.  The two political initiatives—reform and reconciliation—should therefore be managed in tandem”

    This is an excellent point.  Oftentimes when experts discuss the reconciliation process they worry that the insurgents will change the constitution in ways that will undermine human rights.  This is a very real worry.  Opening up the Afghan constitution for debate is also a potential opportunity to change parts of the constitution, which undermine governance in the provinces.  For instance the constitution allows Karzai to appoint provincial governors; a rule which makes zero sense in a society with such stark regional, ethnic and sectarian divides.  The Peace Jirga may decide that eliminating some of these poorly thought out rules would be a step towards peace with the Taliban.

    In conclusion, it is impossible to cover this entire CFR paper—I would love to discuss some of the interesting ideas on Pakistan—in a single blog post.  The Council on Foreign Relations has produced a useful paper.  If President Obama focuses on the good suggestions such as taking the December Review seriously and thinking about ways to implement reconciliation more effectively, the CFR will have done great service.

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  8. Afghan Women Speak : Enhancing Security and Human Rights in Afghanistan

    Published: October 28th, 2010
    Author: David Cortright and Sarah Smiles Persinger

    Afghan Women Speak : Enhancing Security and Human Rights in Afghanistan is a report that attempts to “provide options for Western policymakers to protect women’s gains while pursuing political solutions to the conflict” in Afghanistan.

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  9. Afghanistan News Recap

    Published: October 27th, 2010
    Author: Ed Kenney

    Iran in Afghanistan

    Today’s New York Times has a front page story on Iran’s increasingly cozy relationship with the Karzai government.  The U.S. should not be surprised that Iran is trying to influence the Afghan government with financial support.  Iran has a 582 mile border with Afghanistan, close to a million Afghan refugees living within its borders, sees an enormous percentage of the Afghan drug trade traffic through its land, and population and is traditionally protective of the minority Shia Hazara population.  In a press conference, Karzai pointed out that U.S. contributions dwarf those given by Iran or other nations.  Furthermore, there is no indication that Karzai ever pledged to refuse Iranian aid.  This news development, however, does indicate troubling continual erosion in the relationship between Karzai and the U.S.   If Karzai actually believes his regime could survive “without the West’s help”, he might be tempted to exclude the U.S. in peace negotiations.  This potential development should greatly concern policymakers.

    Afghanistan Study Group Member Juan Cole has an interesting take on the Iran story arguing that the scandal demonstrates that Iran and the U.S are “de facto Allies in Afghanistan”.  He goes on to say that the Iranians have a long history of animosity towards the Taliban:

    “The Iranians hate the Taliban and it is mutual.  The two almost went to war in with one another in 1998 over the killing of Iranian diplomats at Mazar.  Iran backed the Northern Alliance in its dark days when al Qaeda had it bottled up in the North East and Karzai is still backed by Northern Alliance War Lords”.

    Karzai’s heated rhetoric may simply reflect political posturing related to a ban on private security contractors.  These security firms have gotten a lot of negative attention due to the killing of civilians.  However, they also play an important role in providing security for development projects all over Afghanistan.  Simply put, without security contractors, much of the U.S. supported construction and development cannot take place.  Karzai may try to extract U.S. concessions before agreeing to postpone the ban.

    Afghanistan Study Group Member Bernard Finel thinks the benefits of security contractors are overblown.  In demanding a ban on security personnel, Karzai is demonstrating leadership “for the first time in a decade,” writes Finel; furthermore development projects are “long-run and minor”, essentially a “trivial” issue in comparison to more important questions surrounding Afghan legitimacy.  By demanding that the U.S. remove contractors, Karzai is reclaiming sovereignty.  Finel concludes that a successful COIN strategy cannot be dependent on mercenary forces:

    A development-centric COIN approach supported with 500,000 well-trained American troops is one thing.  A development-centric COIN approach sustained by a hodge-podge of bribes, private militias, and mercenaries is quite another.”

    Is the War Going Well?

    There is a real disconnect between the press releases from the Pentagon and those coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan.  General Petraeus is promoting recent military successes in the Kandahar offensive.  Thanks to increased operations by both U.S. special operations and Afghan allies, vast stretches of the province have seen increased security, but is the tide really turning?  The same day the Washington Post published Petreaus’s remarks, the paper also published a story on Af-Pak relations casting doubt on the general’s statements:

    “In interviews, [Pakistani] military and intelligence officers said they were skeptical of assertion by U.S. military leaders that coalition forces have turned the corner…calling that narrative a ‘desperate ’attempt to convince the American public that there is progress in the war”

    Taliban officials similarly say that the “peace talks” are mostly hype.  As Michael Semple from the Carr center suggests, the presence of backchannels with the Taliban and the Haqqani Network have been used to communicate with the enemy for years and are standard operating procedures for Afghanistan.

    So the question remains:  Whose version of the war should we believe?  Harvard professor and Afghanistan Study Group Member Stephen Walt does an excellent job explaining why we should be skeptical of Pentagon press releases.  Firstly, he argues that it is in U.S. interests to play up positive developments in the war in order to encourage insurgents to defect.  In other words these reports could be a psychological operation aimed at the insurgency.  Secondly, even if the gains in Kandahar are real, the Taliban can still regroup in their Pakistani sanctuary (with Pakistani support).   There is very little evidence to suggest that the current gains are permanent, but there is ample historical precedent to suggest that the recent gains are only temporary.

    “The Taliban Will Never Negotiate as Long as They Think They are Winning”

    Robert Naiman questions a piece of conventional wisdom on potential negotiations with the Taliban.  The conventional wisdom says that the Taliban will never compromise as long as they have the upper hand in the conflict.  Naiman points out that in any conflict, one side almost always seems to have the upper hand.  This view seems to preclude negotiated settlements from ever successfully ending conflicts—a view contradicted by numerous historical examples.   The real problem, suggests Naiman, is not that that the Taliban refuses to negotiate in the current environment, but rather that while they are winning, the Taliban makes harsh demands such as the removal of all U.S. troops.  In other words, a more accurate statement would read “the U.S. will never negotiate as long as they are losing the war.”

    One caveat should be added to Naiman’s persuasive argument.  In order for meaningful negotiations to take place, both sides must recognize that military victory is not imminent.  If the U.S. believes they are on the cusp of breaking the insurgency’s back, there is no incentive for the U.S. to negotiate.  Likewise, if the Taliban feel they can hold out for two months, then march on Kabul, they will not enter negotiations in good faith.   Simply put, if both sides believe that the costs of continuing the war, outweigh the benefits of continued fighting, there will be an incentive to negotiate regardless of which side has the upper hand.  In Afghanistan, after over three decade of war, including nine years of US involvement, neither side has a clear path to victory.  That is ample incentive for both sides to sit down and talk.

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  10. Dangerous Liaisons with the Afghan Taliban: The Feasibility and Risks of Negotiations

    Published: October 27th, 2010
    Author: Matt Waldman

    “Dangerous Liaisons”, is a report by Matt Waldman, which is based on six months of field research between January and June 2010, funded by the U.S. Institute of Peace and Canadian Global Peace and Security Fund. The research involved separate, in-depth interviews with eighty individuals, mainly in Kabul and Kandahar, including fourteen insurgents, as well as former Taliban officials, diplomats, analysts, community and tribal leaders, and civil society representatives.  The aim was to better understand insurgent motivations and objectives, and in light of this, to assess the feasibility, risks, and implications of negotiations.

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