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Rubin and Rashid Weigh In On the Afghan/Pakistan Situation

I just finished Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid's Foreign Affairs piece on US/NATO Afghan and Pakistani policy, titled ‘From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan.‘ Rubin, who has a blog and a forthcoming book, and Rashid are two giants in the field and I was looking forward at what they had to say about the current situation, especially with a new US administration coming in. Here are some of the articles major topics and policy recommendations:

Afghan Troop Surge

The authors frame a likely troop surge begun by Bush and almost definitely followed through by Barack Obama, as a policy that without a major overhaul of regional security issues will almost definitely fail. They posit that greater troop levels could protect local Afghan populations, giving police and administrative institutions a greater chance at growth and progress, and enable US/NATO forces to have to revert less to air attacks, which have resulted in civilian deaths, but they emphasize other policy prescriptions as having a greater chance at success. Another aspect they fail to mention regarding an Afghan troop surge is the possible coming to the negotiation table of certain groups who see the surge as a sign of US/NATO commitment and decide that they should strike a deal, aka the Sunni Awakening in Iraq. Rubin and Rashid are saying nothing new in that the situation on the ground will take more than just more feet on the ground, but their emphasis on the tenuous geopolitical situation of the region, especially Pakistan's, is worth discussing further.

Pakistani Geopolitics

The best aspect of the whole article is Rubin and Rashid's analysis of Pakistan's, or at least their internal perceived, tenuous and insecure geopolitical situation. The authors layout the fears of the Pakistani military and intelligence agency regarding the current Afghan government, specifically regarding the possible long-term presence of US troops and its perceived and real alignment with Pakistan's archrival, India. To them, Pakistan is a state surrounded by existential enemies, India, an Afghanistan allied with India, and the US, a state that though partnered with the country in the War on Terror, is also a major ally of India, which includes the recent signing of the India-US Nuclear Cooperation Treaty. In Rashid and Rubin's eyes, these external enemies have led the Pakistani military and government see the Kashmir rebels and Pakistani Taliban as partners at times, willing to help to assist the state's geopolitical objectives of undermining the Indian and Indian-allied Afghan government. Though I think the authors have gone a bit overboard in describing Pakistan's external ‘existential’ problems, especially regarding the India-US nuke deal,as the US also works closely, just not publicly, with the Pakistani military on this issue, and I believe they overemphasize the Afghan-India alliance and under-emphasize the historical animosity between Afghan-Pakistan's Durand Line and FATA situation.

Major Diplomatic Initiative

The main policy prescription given by the two experts is for an international diplomatic compact, which is able to relieve at least most of the region's geopolitical insecurities. Most of the Initiative has to do with reliving Pakistani fears, which they argue would allow them to be a more productive partner in stabilizing Afghanistan and cooling tensions on the Kashmir issue. Here is a lengthy excerpt which describes some of the give and take between the international and regional participants:


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. Such a dialogue would have to be backed by the pledge of a multiyear international development aid package for regional economic integration, including aid to the most affected regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, particularly the border regions. (At present, the United States is proposing to provide $750 million in aid to the FATA but without having any political framework to deliver the aid.)

A central purpose of the contact group would be to assure Pakistan that the international community is committed to its territorial integrity — and to help resolve the Afghan and Kashmir border issues so as to better define Pakistan's territory. The international community would have to provide transparent reassurances and aid to Pakistan, pledge that no state is interested in its dismemberment, and guarantee open borders between Pakistan and both Afghanistan and India. The United States and the European Union would have to open up their markets to Pakistan's critical exports, especially textiles, and to Afghan products. And the United States would need to offer a road map to Pakistan to achieving the same kind of nuclear deal that was reached with India, once Pakistan has transparent and internationally monitored guarantees about the nonproliferation of its nuclear weapons technology.

Reassurances by the contact group that addressed Pakistan's security concerns might encourage Pakistan to promote, rather than hinder, an internationally and nationally acceptable political settlement in Afghanistan. Backing up the contact group's influence and clout must be the threat that any breaking of agreements or support for terrorism originating in the FATA would be taken to the UN Security Council. Pakistan, the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, sees itself as a legitimate international power, rather than a spoiler; confronted with the potential loss of that status, it would compromise.

To the authors credit, they also go into ways US/NATO could assure China, India, Russia, and Iran that their presence is not to endanger their respected interests or security, but only to provide a stable, prosperous region. What the US expects is for the states and main players in the region, specifically the Afghan and Pakistani governments, to commit to combating international terrorism in their territory.

What do you think? What did you think about the article? What did I miss? What did Rubin and Rashid miss?



Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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