Gambling on Reconciliation to Save a Transition: Perils and Possibilities in Afghanistan

Gambling on Reconciliation to Save a Transition: P
Policy Outlook
The Obama administration is supporting political reconciliation between the Taliban and coalition forces in Afghanistan in order to safeguard the upcoming security transition, but numerous challenges still loom.
Related Media and Tools

U.S. forces are beginning the long process of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The international community is committed to completing a security transition by 2014, at which point coalition forces will cease to have primary responsibility for assuring Afghan security. But even the best-laid transition plans are at risk of failure if shoring up the Afghan state is not made a priority. The international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn on December 5 offers the United States and its allies an opportunity to institute the changes necessary for success.

Although NATO’s efforts to train Afghan national forces have made remarkable progress in recent years, it is unlikely that the indigenous military, police, and militia will be capable of independently securing the country against the wide range of terrorist and insurgent groups that will still be present in the region in 2014. Moreover, President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw the surge forces from Afghanistan by September 2012 will prevent U.S. military commanders from being able to complete what they have so effectively begun: decimating the mid-level command structure of the Taliban that serves as the vital link between the rahbari shura (the leadership council) based in Quetta, Pakistan, and their foot soldiers in the field.

The administration, supported by the international community, has attempted to resolve this conundrum by promoting reconciliation with the Taliban, but that effort too is faltering. The insurgent leadership simply does not believe that it has been conclusively defeated—and accepting the U.S. terms now would surely be tantamount to acknowledging defeat. These challenges are exacerbated by the most vexing issue of all—the problematic role of Pakistan, which provides the insurgents sanctuary while using them as tools in its efforts to subordinate Afghanistan. All things considered, therefore, the prospects for successful reconciliation are indeed dim.

Yet, after 2014, the international community can still leave behind an Afghanistan that is durable enough to ensure that the Taliban can never regain effective control. Such meaningful success will require not jettisoning reconciliation so much as recommitting to the “hardening” of the Afghan state. First, the United States and its allies must invest in strengthening Afghan political institutions to deepen democracy, foster internal reconciliation, and ensure a peaceful transition of presidential power in 2014.

Second, the international community must help Afghanistan shift away from its current dependency-inducing pattern of economic growth underwritten by large quantities of foreign aid. Budgetary support for Kabul will be necessary for some time, but Washington and its allies must also assist Afghanistan in developing policy frameworks that expand private investment, effectively manage the country’s mineral resources, sustain improvements in agriculture, and deepen its economic integration with Pakistan and India.

Third, the international community must commit to funding Afghanistan’s national security forces through sustained contributions to a dedicated trust fund. Meanwhile, Washington should conclude the strategic partnership agreement currently being negotiated with Kabul to permit both counterterrorism operations and operational support for Afghan security forces over the long term. The United States must also delay the planned withdrawal of American surge troops and maintain the remaining U.S. forces in country until 2014.

In the absence of such commitments, the desire that Afghanistan “never again” become a haven for terrorism will remain merely a pious invocation.

End of document

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.




In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.