Afghanistan Thoughts

The subject of Obama’s Afghanistan policy merits a far longer and more detailed post than you’re going to get from me at the moment, but I’d like to work through a couple of stray thoughts.

(1) Kashmir is not the solution. Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid are both deeply knowledgeable about Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they are, as far as I can tell, the chief purveyors of the “go broad” approach — i.e., solve Kashmir to solve Afghanistan.

A first step could be the establishment of a contact group on the region authorized by the UN Security Council. This contact group, including the five permanent members and perhaps others (NATO, Saudi Arabia), could promote dialogue between India and Pakistan about their respective interests in Afghanistan and about finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute; seek a long-term political vision for the future of the FATA from the Pakistani government, perhaps one involving integrating the FATA into Pakistan’s provinces, as proposed by several Pakistani political parties; move Afghanistan and Pakistan toward discussions on the Durand Line and other frontier issues; involve Moscow in the region’s stabilization so that Afghanistan does not become a test of wills between the United States and Russia, as Georgia has become; provide guarantees to Tehran that the U.S.-NATO commitment to Afghanistan is not a threat to Iran; and ensure that China’s interests and role are brought to bear in international discussions on Afghanistan.

Daniel Larison has done an excellent job of outlining why this approach will prove counterproductive. It will give the Pakistanis the wrong incentives (why cut a deal for nothing when you can hold out for an American bribe?), it will undermine behind-the-scenes state-to-state negotiations, it will raise (it already has raised) hackles among sovereignty-obsessed Indians, making an already difficult process harder than it needs to be. The Bush Administration was wise to leave Kashmir to be handled bilaterally. The Obama Administration will soon learn the same thing.

(2) Troop numbers aren’t the central issue. This should be obvious, so I won’t go into much detail. The U.S. and Afghanistan need a new strategy. Canadian and Dutch forces are leaving very soon, which means the U.S. will have to take ownership of some of the most violent territory in the country. More troops won’t fix a broken strategy. We’ve actually been increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan, and we’ll no doubt keep doing so, but it’s no panacea. Fortunately, there are three reviews of Afghanistan policy that are happening right now, including H.R. McMaster’s CENTCOM review that will hopefully yield some useful answers.

(3) The ANA is the solution. That’s pretty blunt, but it’s true. The ANA is a highly effective fighting force. It is far too small. Afghanistan has real ethnic cleavages, but, as a wise man explained to me, they are not comparable to Iraq’s sectarian ur-cleavage. Scaling up the ANA strikes me as the right place to invest serious resources.

I have to go meet someone really soon. Damn. We haven’t discussed Pakistan, or Michael Crowley’s comprehensive piece on Obama’s Afghanistan options. I will revisit.