Viewing the Afghan conflict through the lens of Indo-Pak rivalry was misconceived, a top American think-tank has said, amidst reports that the Trump administration was in the final stages of formulating its new Af-Pak policy. “If the Afghan conflict is viewed as a consequence of the India-Pakistan rivalry —- one that cannot be solved without first engineering a rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad (not to mention Rawalpindi)—- the United States ought to invest in achieving a permanent South Asian peace (as Richard Holbrooke, former US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had originally intended),” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said.
“This solution, however, is misconceived: it fails to account for Afghanistan’s own territorial problem with Pakistan—whose roots predate the latter’s dispute with India and, in any case, is too difficult to achieve in the short term in ways that would improve the current trajectory of the conflict in Afghanistan,” said the think-tank’s latest policy paper authored by eminent experts Ashley Tellis and Jeff Eggers.
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Tellis and Eggers said another version of this option is the concept of regional neutrality, wherein Afghanistan gradually exits its current security-based partnerships in favour of implementing a cooperative security agreement signed by all neighbours and near-neighbours.
“This solution, however, is more implausible than it initially appears, as Kabul—without assistance from Washington—would have difficulty enforcing such an agreement if it were violated by one or more of Afghanistan’s neighbours,” the two eminent experts said.
In their latest policy paper, Tellis and Eggers said the US needs to develop a strategy that protects the gains in Afghanistan while terminating the conflict.
“Regional options—resolving the India-Pakistan conflict, creating a neutral Afghanistan, or squeezing Pakistan—are too difficult to rely on alone,” they argued.
Unilateral options—either pursuing major escalation or a complete disengagement—are equally implausible because of their high costs and risks, respectively, they said.
“Only limited approaches—moderately expanding the current commitment, seeking a political settlement, or fostering a long-term counterterrorism partnership—are left,” the report said.
Since a counterterrorism-only solution is unlikely to be efficacious, the US should prioritise reaching a political settlement with the Taliban while continuing to bolster the Afghan state and its security forces, it recommended.
“To be successful, Washington will need to empower the US ambassador in Kabul to oversee the administration’s entire strategy in Afghanistan; persuade the Afghan government to begin a serious national dialogue on political reconciliation; engage in direct talks with the Taliban; target the Taliban shura, if necessary, while inducing Rawalpindi to constrain the Taliban’s sanctuary in Pakistan; and secure regional support for a political settlement in Afghanistan,” the report said.