Taking on the Taliban

December 05, 2006|By Dennis Kux and Karl F. Inderfurth

WASHINGTON -- Afghanistan topped the agenda at the recent NATO summit in Latvia. President Hamid Karzai faces many major challenges: weak governmental institutions, rampant corruption, lagging economic reconstruction, a booming drug trade, too many warlords, and a resurgent Taliban. Over time, with sufficient and sustained international support, and Afghanistan's own efforts, all these difficulties can be addressed - except for the Taliban.

The Taliban pose a different type of threat. They can lose every firefight with superior NATO, U.S. and Afghan National Army forces and still turn southern and eastern Afghanistan into a "no development" zone and stir insecurity in Kabul and elsewhere. As long as the Taliban have a haven in Pakistan, they can continue their insurgency indefinitely, making it virtually impossible for Afghanistan to become a country at peace with itself and its neighbors.

A key to overcoming this is to improve the troubled relations between Kabul and Islamabad. Good ties are a precondition for a stable Afghanistan. President Bush's recent "working dinner" with Presidents Karzai and Musharraf was a well-intentioned initiative, but the two South Asian leaders are a long way from dropping their mutual suspicions. Afghans resent past and, they believe, present Pakistani interference, especially support for the Taliban. Pakistan fears Kabul's close ties with New Delhi.

What can the United States and the international community do about this vexing problem?

First, Washington and other key capitals should urge Afghanistan to officially accept the so-called Durand Line of 1893 as the border with Pakistan. Kabul needs to override the decision of the 1949 loya jirga, or grand tribal assembly, which, contrary to international law, declared Afghan agreements with the British not binding after the formation of Pakistan.

Although Mr. Karzai does not publicly dispute this border, his government has been reluctant to accept it officially lest this cause internal political trouble. A comprehensive settlement to secure Afghanistan's border with Pakistan is long overdue and urgently required.

Second, Washington and NATO must continue to work with Pakistan for a more concerted effort to disrupt the Taliban leadership and its revived command and control structure operating on Pakistani territory, in and around the city of Quetta, and in the Waziristan district of the northern tribal areas along the border. Islamabad cannot prevent individual Talibs and small groups from crossing the porous, 1,600-mile frontier, but it can do a much better job of making its territory less hospitable for them.

Third, Washington should urge the Karzai government to take greater account of Islamabad's sensitivities in dealing with India. Islamabad fears that the main function of Indian consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad is to stir trouble across the nearby border, especially to fan the flames of the anti-Islamabad insurgency in Baluchistan. Even though India continues to provide generous economic assistance to Afghanistan, Kabul would be wise to try to assuage Pakistani concerns.

Fourth, Washington should urge Pakistan to integrate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the country's political, economic and legal mainstream. An anachronistic throwback to the days of the Great Game, the FATA were created by the British Raj as a no-man's land and buffer between Afghanistan and the "settled areas" of British India. A century later, the FATA remain economically, socially and politically backward. A traditional bastion of conservative Islam, the FATA have in recent years become a breeding ground for the Taliban and a sanctuary for al-Qaida remnants. To make it easier for Islamabad to undertake costly reforms needed to integrate the FATA, the United States, the World Bank and other donors should provide Pakistan with substantial additional economic assistance.

Fifth, the United Nations should convene a high-level international conference attended by all Afghanistan's neighbors and other concerned major powers. The goal would be a multilateral accord that recognizes Afghanistan's borders; pledges non-interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs; explicitly bans the supply of arms to nongovernmental actors; affirms that, like Switzerland, Afghanistan should be internationally accepted as a permanently neutral state; and establishes a comprehensive international regime to remove obstacles to the flow of trade across Afghanistan. The latter is a key to unlocking the country's economic potential. Such an agreement would not end all external meddling but would clearly enhance the stature of the Afghan government.

Combined with a continuing flow of security, economic and counter-narcotics assistance, these five steps would substantially increase the chances for success in Afghanistan. Not addressing the strained relations between Kabul and Islamabad would substantially increase the chances for failure.

Dennis Kux, a retired U.S. ambassador and South Asia specialist, is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His e-mail is dhkux@hotmail.com. Karl F. Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001, is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. His e-mail is kinderfurth@aol.com.

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