Creating New Facts on the Ground

Creating New Facts on the Ground
Policy Outlook
Continued military pressure will allow the United States to alter the realities on the ground in Afghanistan, convince the Taliban to consider reconciliation, and enable effective regional diplomacy to find a successful solution for the country.
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  • Although meaningful cooperation in the region surrounding Afghanistan is of vital importance, it has been elusive because Afghanistan’s key neighbors have significantly divergent aims. Engineering a successful regional solution would require the United States to fundamentally transform either these actors’ objectives or their dominant strategies. Achieving the latter may prove more feasible, most crucially vis-à-vis Pakistan.

  • The region’s history of discord is mainly rooted in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan is colored by its rivalry with India, its relations with Afghanistan are a geopolitical challenge independent of India because of its fears of disorder along its western borders, the unwelcome idea of “Pashtunistan,” and a related long-standing border dispute.

  • Pakistan’s reaction to these problems has only exacerbated them. As Islamabad, by supporting the Taliban insurgency, has sought to exercise preponderant, if not overweening, influence over Kabul’s strategic choices, it has earned Kabul’s distrust, deepened the Kabul–New Delhi partnership, and increased the risk to its relations with Washington—not to mention threatening the lives of U.S. and other coalition forces operating in Afghanistan.

  • Despite widespread support in Afghanistan for ending the war through a negotiated settlement if possible, the Afghan Taliban leadership is unlikely to consider reconciliation unless it is faced with the prospect of continued losses of the kind sustained as a result of coalition military operations in 2010. A regional solution is similarly unlikely as long as Afghanistan and its neighbors, including India, perceive Islamabad as bent on holding Kabul in a choking embrace.

  • Solving these problems lies beyond the capability of American diplomacy, and right now even of the promised diplomatic surge. The best hope for progress lies in continuing military action to alter the realities on the ground—thereby inducing the Taliban to consider reconciliation, while simultaneously neutralizing the Pakistani strategy that is currently preventing a regional solution.

  • To increase the probability of military success, however, President Obama will need to forgo the politically calculated drawdown of combat troops this summer and instead accept the advice of his field commanders to maintain the largest possible contingent necessary for the coming campaign in eastern Afghanistan. Hard and unpalatable as it might be for the president, this course alone offers a solution that will protect the recent gains in Afghanistan and advance American interests over the long term.
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About the South Asia Program

The Carnegie South Asia Program informs policy debates relating to the region’s security, economy, and political development. From the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan’s internal dynamics to U.S. engagement with India, the Program’s renowned team of experts offer in-depth analysis derived from their unique access to the people and places defining South Asia’s most critical challenges.


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