How Not to Lose Afghanistan
By The Editors, New York Times, January 26, 2009
Barack Obama has said that his priority in the war on terrorism is Afghanistan, and is poised to increase troop levels there, perhaps by as many as 30,000. How should the United States deal with growing strength of the Taliban? Is increasing troop levels enough? We asked some analysts for their thoughts on military and political strategy in the region.
Kori Schake, former national security adviser; Andrew Exum, former United States Army officer; Bruce Riedel, former C.I.A. officer; John Nagl, former United States Army officer; Parag Khanna, senior research fellow at the New America Foundation
The Taliban Problem Crosses Borders
Parag Khanna, senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, is the author of “The Second World: How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the Twenty-First Century.”
Even if an additional 30,000 American and NATO troops were deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban problem would not be reduced. It would merely be pushed back over the Pakistan border, destabilizing Pakistan’s already volatile North-West Frontier Province, which itself is more populous than Iraq. This amounts to squeezing a balloon on one end to inflate it on the other.
The tribal militias, newly armed with Chinese AK-47s, will not be able to cope with that influx. Even now, the increase in attacks on NATO convoys in Peshawar and the Khyber Pass show how the Afghan front is seriously affected by American policies in Pakistan. Fewer arms from the United States (the Obama administration intends to emphasize civilian over military aid) have diminished the Pakistani military’s willingness to support American supply routes, forcing the U.S. military to scramble for new routes through Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. As was the case under the Musharraf regime, the Pakistan army is more interested in American planes than policies.
Clearly, America cannot resolve the Afghan problem in isolation. South-Central Asia needs independent security institutions, beginning with a joint Afghan-Pakistan force empowered to conduct operations on both sides of the border, as recently proposed by Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan’s defense minister.
At the same time, America will have to accept Afghan and Pakistani negotiations with Taliban commanders, who have emerged from a deep Punjabi and Pashtun social base that cannot be eradicated anytime soon.
Just as needed are provisional reconstruction teams in Pakistan’s tribal areas, like those that have been established in parts of Afghanistan. These Pakistani-led teams should be provided with the cash and supplies to install power generators, to give local police officers more pay and to hire thousands of local Pashtun to build roads, hospitals and schools.
This process can begin from the Khyber agency outside Peshawar and spread north and west toward the Afghan border. The original reconstruction teams in Afghanistan also need more support — which should involve Arab, Turkish and Chinese participation. In other words, long-term stability depends on getting reconstruction right on both sides of the border.
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