The Forgotten Front


Following up on yesterday's promise to catch up on the situation in Afghanistan I read, among other things, The Forgotten Front, a report for the Center for American Progress by Caroline Wadhams and Lawrence Korb. They make the case that a relatively ambitious set of aims can still be achieved, namely:

  • Deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
  • Build a stable, secure state that is not threatened by internal conflict and does not threaten its neighbors.

There's a lot of ins-and-outs to the "how" part, but perhaps the most interesting argument is the "Afghanistan Is Not Iraq" sidebar section which makes the following points:

  • Afghanistan has a legitimate government led by President Hamid Karzai that is representative of its people, despite problems with corruption, lack of capacity, and an insufficient presence outside of Kabul. While Karzai’s popularity has decreased since 2005, the majority of Afghan citizens are still supportive of his leadership.
  • A functioning parliament exists that is an effective counterweight to executive power in Afghanistan.
  • A general consensus exists among Afghanistan’s different ethnicities and communities over the government of Afghanistan.
  • The United States is not alone in Afghanistan; 37 countries make up the NATO-International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and the United Nations is also playing a strong role. The Afghan
    government and the international community have a shared agenda and set of goals, embodied by the Afghanistan Compact, which was negotiated by 53 countries in January 2006 and is supported by the Asian Development Bank, the G8 countries, the European Union, and the World Bank.
  • The Afghan National Army is loyal to the Afghan government and not to a specific sectarian group, and sectarian strife is not dividing the country.
  • Polling of the Afghan people shows that majorities support an international troop presence and few support the Taliban. While these numbers vary regionally, and are lower in the south, the overall support is positive.
  • While more should be done, progress has been made in reconstruction efforts, including the expansion of independent media and communications, and building roads.

That seems plausible enough to me. The authors also argue that while more troops (and in particular, special forces troops trained in the appropriate kind of missions) are needed in Afghanistan, they say we don't need a huge increase. Instead, they say we need diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran and Pakistan that will create the circumstances in which stabilization is possible and go through what that might involve.

Ultimately, how plausible this is hinges on the diplomatic calculus and I really have no idea the extent to which it would be possible to convince Pakistan to do X, Y, and Z in exchange for A, B, and C. Iran is an easier case as they actually were cooperating with us in Afghanistan for a long time and then decided to change their mind, which seems ot indicate that they're not oppose in principle to cooperation. So what we have hear is a blueprint of a strategy that sounds worth attempting to me -- it's just hard to know how optimistic we should really be about a new administration's efforts at regional diplomacy.