The Obama administration made a grave mistake in announcing a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, argues Ashley J. Tellis in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He explains why reconciliation talks risk failure, why the real problem lurks across the border in Pakistan, and the steps the United States can take to improve the prospects for a successful transition.

U.S. Policy Recommendations for Afghanistan:

  • Forget reconciliation: The United States should stop emphasizing talks with the Quetta shura and the Haqqani network as the solution to Afghanistan’s problems. The insurgency has virtually no incentive to negotiate when its adversaries are headed for the exit.
  • Postpone the withdrawal of U.S. forces: Washington should delay the withdrawal of surge troops beyond 2012 to consolidate security gains in the south and east.
  • Expand supply networks: As a hedge against continued reliance on Pakistan, the United States should expand its network of air and ground lines into Afghanistan.
  • Secure basing rights: The United States should ensure that the strategic partnership agreement currently being negotiated with Kabul provides sufficient U.S. basing rights to conduct counterterrorism operations and support the Afghan National Security Forces over the long term.

U.S. Policy Recommendations for Pakistan:

  • Reduce equipment transfers: Washington should stop transfers of military equipment that have no relevance to Pakistani counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.
  • Reform security aid: To ensure tax dollars are not wasted, the United States should gradually replace Coalition Support Funds with direct counterterrorism assistance tied to specific counterterrorism targets.
  • Reform civilian aid: Washington should condition future civilian aid to Pakistan on Islamabad’s support for accelerated South Asian economic integration and structural changes in its capacity to mobilize domestic resources.
  • Stand up for the civilian government: The Pakistani security services exercise disproportionate control over key national decisions within Pakistan. The United States should more forcefully support the civilian government in Islamabad, despite its serious weaknesses.

Tellis concludes, “None of these policy changes by themselves will suffice to transform Pakistan into a successful state or to shift the Pakistani military’s current strategies in more helpful directions. But they will signal the limits of American patience and spare the American taxpayer the indignity of having to subsidize Pakistani state actions that directly threaten American lives and interests.”