Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO summit

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO summit
By Karl F. Inderfurth, Boston Globe, April 1, 2008

The NATO summit meeting in Bucharest this week comes at a critical time for the 26-member alliance and its mission in Afghanistan. It also comes at a critical time for the one country that can make or break that mission: Pakistan.

NATO is collectively holding its breath as the Musharraf era comes to a close, replaced by a new and uncertain civilian political leadership and accompanied by a continuing rise in extremist violence. A month-long surge in suicide bombings has put the country on edge. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, said during his recent visit to Washington that as soon as the new Pakistan government is in place, he will travel to Islamabad. After Bucharest there is no better destination to reinforce NATO's Afghan mission.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked. There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if Pakistan is not a part of the solution. The future stability of both depends on the development of an effective regional strategy to counter and uproot the Taliban/Al Qaeda sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal border areas. Despite Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts over the last four years (or lack thereof according to the critics), the Taliban and Al Qaeda have developed a stronghold in this region that bolsters the Taliban's capabilities against coalition forces in Afghanistan, poses a direct threat to the Pakistani state itself, and facilitates Al Qaeda planning and execution of global terrorist plots, including those directed against the United States.

What can be done about this interconnected set of problems?

Countering cross border infiltration is the immediate priority. The Trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-NATO Military Commission is an important mechanism in this regard. So is the strengthening of the US military presence along the Afghan side of the border, which the latest US Marine contingent now arriving in Afghanistan will assist as will the opening of the first of six joint US-Afghan-Pakistan military intelligence centers along the border. Washington also needs to work more closely with Pakistan in joint counterterrorism operations. The possibility for collaboration exists, as evidenced by the missile strike in North Waziristan earlier this year that killed senior Al Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi. But these operations are highly sensitive and politically charged in the tribal areas and must be pursued through quiet, behind the scenes efforts with Pakistan political and military leaders.

In addition, any large-scale outside military intervention in Pakistan's tribal areas would be disastrous for the Pakistani state and US interests and would not provide a lasting solution to the problem. A more effective strategy involves working cooperatively with Pakistan's new leadership to integrate these areas into the Pakistani political system and, once they are secure, provide substantial assistance (along with the European Union, the World Bank and other donors) to build up their economy and social infrastructure. As Pakistan's ambassador, Mahmud Duranni, says, what is needed in these areas is a "multipronged strategy. That is, military force, development and empowerment of the people. Using force alone is not the answer."

Over the longer term, the region requires a new compact that addresses Afghanistan and Pakistan's political, economic and security concerns and seeks to neutralize regional and great power rivalries. To accomplish this the United Nations should convene a high-level international conference attended by all Afghanistan's neighbors and other concerned major powers, a task that should be added to the agenda of the newly appointed high level UN envoy for Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide.

The goal would be a multilateral accord that recognizes Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan (the Durand Line of 1893 is still in dispute); pledges non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs; affirms that, like the Congress of Vienna accord for Switzerland, Afghanistan should be internationally accepted as a permanently neutral state; and establishes a comprehensive international regime to remove obstacles to the flow of trade across Afghanistan, the key to establishing a vibrant commercial network that would benefit the entire region.

And such an agreement would have another positive corollary - it would provide the basis for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO military forces from a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, served as US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001.


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