The handover of responsibility for key areas of Afghanistan from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to Afghan security forces is set to begin in July. This rapidly approaching date is highlighting concerns about Afghan capabilities and the status of regional cooperation.

Former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Aziz Ahmad Khan and Afghan diplomat Davood Moradian addressed whether reconciliation and regional cooperation are feasible for Afghanistan and Pakistan and discussed the role of other players—including India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States—in promoting cooperation. Carnegie’s Ashley J. Tellis moderated.

Reconciliation and Reintegration Efforts

Khan observed that Afghanistan has suffered greatly during the last three decades. The process for reconciling the interests of different factions in Afghanistan and reintegrating insurgents into Afghan life is an important step to helping Afghanistan move forward. It is important that the international community has realized that something must be done, and made efforts on this front, Khan argued.

  • Afghan Leadership: Khan emphasized the importance of Afghan leadership in reconciliation, commending President Hamid Karzai for embarking on this process. Though establishing a high peace council large enough to bring together the various factions in Afghanistan is important, only the government of Afghanistan can successfully negotiate with all of the parties, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network, making its leadership critical.

  • Afghan-led Military Action: Coalition military action against the Taliban must continue so the group knows that the government of Afghanistan is serious about defeating the insurgency, Khan said. The more this process can be led by Afghan forces, the better its chances of success. Afghan leadership demonstrates to insurgents that they are fighting locals, not foreigners who will eventually leave, and gives local civilians incentive to support the government in fighting this insurgency. Khan pointed to Pakistan’s Swat valley as one example where this strategy is working. At first, it was controlled by Taliban-like elements, but ultimately the army was able to inspire enough support from locals to help it drive out the terrorists. International forces will be required to support the Afghan army and Afghan police, but they should remain in the background as much as possible, Khan concluded.

  • Taliban Reintegration: Along with maintaining pressure on the Taliban, Afghan leaders must engage in a campaign of public diplomacy and amnesty to encourage those who are willing to integrate with society to lay down their arms, said Khan. Though Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar may not be willing to reintegrate, they could be encouraged to disappear, either leaving the country or fading from view, and lower-ranking Taliban fighters could be successfully targeted for reintegration.

  • Economic Development: Khan commented that the efforts at reintegration and military pressure must be augmented by an intensive focus on economic development in those areas where the Taliban enjoys influence. These efforts should have a local mandate, with village elders determining the projects that would benefit them most and receiving the necessary funds to complete them. The villagers, Khan argued, will then be willing to help coalition forces because the Taliban is unable to provide similar resources and because the Taliban has ostracized itself from the entire international community.

Afghanistan’s External Relations

Khan then discussed Afghanistan’s relationship with other nations, including its neighbors Pakistan and Iran, and those countries with interests in the region, such as Turkey and India.

  • Pakistan: Khan explained that an unstable Afghanistan creates problems for Pakistan both economically and socially. Almost 3 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan currently. They act as a drain on Pakistan’s economy; given that Pakistan is a labor-surplus country, every Afghan employed in Pakistan means a Pakistani is unemployed. Another concern is the smuggling of imports under the guise of the Transit Trade agreement; both Pakistanis and Afghans engage in smuggling to avoid taxes.

  • Turkey: Turkey also has been taking an interest in Afghanistan, which it demonstrated by offering to help the Taliban open an office in Turkey to facilitate the reconciliation process, Khan noted.

  • India: Khan stated that although India’s aid in Afghanistan should be welcomed, India should be careful that its actions in Afghanistan do not alarm Pakistan. Pakistan and India, Khan argued, have a history of troubled relations. He explained that when his Indian colleagues ask what the problem is with their involvement in Afghanistan, he responds that they have gone to Afghanistan with a swagger rather than quietly.

  • The United States: The United States has already invested a lot of time, money, and resources in Afghanistan, Khan said, arguing that the United States will likely be required to invest more and stay in Afghanistan with a smaller presence for a much longer period of time to help support Afghan security forces.

Afghanistan’s Future

In envisioning what Afghanistan will look like in ten years, Moradian identified three important factors for the country’s future development:

  • Functioning Democracy: Moradian said he would like to see Afghanistan become a functioning democracy that can provide basic services to its citizens.

  • Regional Identity: Moradian expressed hope that Afghanistan will become a catalyst for regional cooperation. Historically, Afghanistan has been a crossroads of different cultures; it has the potential to serve as a land bridge between Central and South Asia and as a regional hub. Afghanistan wants to recreate the identity that it had prior to the last three decades of war.

  • Strategic Partnership: Afghanistan wants to be a strategic partner of the United States. Moradian cited the South Korea-U.S. relationship as an example of such a partnership. Like Afghanistan, South Korea has a troubled past and is located in a troubled neighborhood, but it has overcome internal and regional challenges with U.S. assistance.

Levels of Reconciliation

Moradian argued that reconciliation is an important component of creating an enduring and comprehensive peace. Five levels of reconciliation are needed.

  • The State and Society: The most important level of reconciliation in Afghanistan is between the state and society, Moradian said. Afghanistan’s state institutions must be stronger, more inclusive, and more responsive to the needs of the people.

  • Afghanistan and Pakistan: Moradian and Khan agreed that Pakistanis and Afghans get along well at an individual level. However, some issues such as the status of the border need to be reconciled at the state level to improve regional relations, Moradian added.

  • National Visions: There are completing visions within Afghanistan for the country’s future, Moradian argued. Some want an ethnic Afghanistan; others focus on a religious, fundamentalist Afghanistan. Leaders in Kabul and other major cities need to hold a national reconciliation at the level of the political community to reconcile these visions.

  • Mainstreaming the Taliban: The integration of the armed opposition into society and the ability to bring the Taliban into mainstream Afghan politics are essential to the reconciliation process, said Moradian.

  • Regional Cooperation: Afghanistan’s region of South and Central Asia is one of the least connected and most fragmented areas in the world, creating huge potential for further regional cooperation and reintegration, noted Moradian.

A Negative Strategic Partnership

Moradian described the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a negative strategic partnership, given the incompatibility between the two countries on numerous issues.

  • Factors in Incompatibility: Moradian highlighted three factors that contribute to the negative relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    1. Capability: There is a significant imbalance between Pakistan’s strength, especially given its nuclear capability, and Afghanistan’s weakness in terms of national power.

    2. Strategic interest: Pakistan is interested in strategic depth in Afghanistan, whereby Afghanistan can serve as a hedge against encirclement of or incursions into Pakistan, an interest Afghanistan does not share.

    3. Perception: Some Afghans see Pakistan as supporting terrorist groups, while some Pakistanis view the Afghan regime as illegitimate and kept in place by foreigners when it should be dominated by Pashtuns.

  • Pakistan’s Demands: Pakistan expects certain things from Afghanistan, Moradian said. The first and most important of these is the repatriation of Afghan refugees currently residing in Pakistan, which he called a reasonable concern. However, Pakistan also hopes to influence Afghanistan’s foreign policy and the ethnic composition of the Afghan National Army and has displayed paranoia about cooperation between India, Afghanistan, and the United States. These last two areas are less reasonable concerns, Moradian said.

  • Ten Principles to Move Forward: Moradian articulated ten principles necessary to reach an understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan: good neighborhood relationships, transparency, consistency, accountability, reciprocity, mediation, inclusivity, complementarity, differentiation, and solidarity. A compact based on these principles will need to be refined and modified, but Moradian said the principles can serve as the basis for an enduring relationship between the countries. The most important factor for Afghanistan will be Pakistan’s denouncement of terrorism in all its forms, he added.