The Way Forward: Building Partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Part 1)


I’ve now settled in DC, and my internship with the French embassy has been everything I hoped it would be, and more (by the way, the French cafeteria inside the embassy is awesome). Obviously, though, anything I write on this blog is just me and doesn’t reflect the position, thoughts or analysis of any anyone else – for better and for worse. Just to be clear, this means I do not speak for the French embassy, I do not speak for the French government, I speak for no one but me in my personal capacity as a blogger, no more, no less. The day I actually speak for any official group you can be sure I'll let you know, but don't expect this anytime soon...

Just one last note: I apologize for the lack of photos, I was too eager to resume blogging, but will make up for the drab appearance in future articles.

I was reading an article in the NYT about the arrest of the Taliban's top military leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,  (“Pakistanis Tell of Motive in Taliban Leader’s Arrest”), which plays up the Pakistani double game angle, and was struck by a thought: weakening the Haqqani network through kinetic ops isn’t enough perhaps to bring about a change in Pakistan’s calculations. Rather, it will be necessary to assure Pakistan of a seat at the table when it comes to negotiations with the leadership of the various insurgent factions, that its concerns will be considered seriously and taken into account by US and Afghan actors. Until then, Islamabad will naturally protect or refrain from targeting groups it believes or hopes it has a chance of influencing. By the way, contact with and support for are two different things: while Pakistani contact with core leadership is “as clear as the sun in the sky,” one shouldn’t dismiss too rapidly the possibility that such contact represents an attempt to retain ties with old insurgent leaders and forge them with new ones to gain intel on a movement it doesn’t necessarily control (and Pakistan never did control – it belatedly switched support to the Taliban in the mid-90s when it became clear they, not groups like the Gulb-e-Islami of Hekmetyar Gulbuddin, were masters on the Afghan battlefield). One could argue that contact with the Quetta Shura could might provide insights into a group that won’t disappear with Mullah Omar’s death, and that may have to be invited to the table to talk, however distasteful that may seem.

Basically, it wants to stay relevant (just as the US would expect to be part of negotiations determining, say, Mexico’s future), and it also wants to make sure India isn’t favored at Pakistan’s expense by the outcome of any discussions. If nothing else, Pakistan’s capacity to disrupt any attempt that would circumvent it is too great for such an initiative to succeed. This is, perhaps, then, the true meaning behind the Baradar arrest. Advocating for this path – building partners – doesn’t mean that Pakistan should be given a central role. Indeed, a very delicate balance will have to be found and managed (the latter being even more challenging then the formal, as a certain flexibility is required to withstand fluctuating dynamics pulsating regional (geo)politics). It means that it is necessary to reduce incentives for Islamabad to play a disruptive role or to permit elements within its national security establishment to counteract US-supported processes.

Such an approach also requires allowing Afghanistan to play a lead role in shaping, in defining, in deciding its own destiny and restoring national stability to the battle-torn country. Additionally, Afghanistan must be convinced that threatening or appearing to discount Pakistan’s position would go against its own interests.

This approach would no doubt have to be tailored in its fine lines to fit each group being dealt with, as the “Taleban” is a most disparate ensemble composed of a myriad of different actors (the Afghan Taleban led by the Quetta Shura – and within this group coexist the purported “five-dollar Taleban” and the ideological foe of America –, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmetyar’s fighters, Al-Qaeda).

Read part two of this post here.

Afghanistan, Corruption, Pakistan, Taliban, United States, Haqqani Network