The panel discussion "Afghanistan, Pakistan and Regional Stability" took place at the 60th annual conference in November, 2006.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Regional Stability
November 13, 2006
Steve Coll, James Dobbins, Colonel Richard Giguere, Bruce Reidel, Marvin Weinbaum
In the Conference panel on Afghanistan, Pakistan and regional stability, Steve Coll, James Dobbins, Richard Giguère, Bruce Riedel and moderator Marvin Weinbaum discussed various explanations for the revival of the Taliban and the role that Pakistan has played in its resurgence. The panelists' statements elucidated the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan, while stressing the importance of separating the state of affairs in Afghanistan from that of Iraq.
Moderator Marvin Weinbaum began the panel discussion by highlighting the gravity of the status quo in Afghanistan. He noted that in the past year, reconstruction efforts have become increasingly ineffective, which has contributed to escalating violence. Weinbaum proposed four endeavors that must succeed simultaneously in order to “get it right” in Afghanistan: an increase in security forces; stronger governance; sensible and pragmatic reconstruction; and a decrease in poppy production. The success of these efforts is contingent on Pakistan’s capacity and its will to control the presence of the Taliban in its northern provinces. He finished by stating that the United States must “de-couple” Afghanistan from Iraq.
Steve Coll affirmed the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan. Coll discussed Pakistan’s long history of appeasement and support for the Taliban and pointed to the potential reemergence of these trends. In addition, he explained the significance of the “interlocking Islamic parties” that exert relative sovereignty in the tribal regions of Pakistan. He argued that addressing this problem requires consideration of two issues: first, Pakistan’s capacity to deter the Taliban should be earnestly considered because the country has a weak record of combating insurgent groups within its own borders; and second, the intentions of the Musharaf government must be formally challenged.
Moreover, Coll explained that the stability of the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is recurrently informed by the ethnic Pashtuns, who live along the permeable border of both countries and who constitute the majority of the Taliban. “Pashtun politics” are becoming an increasingly severe problem as evidenced by swelling hostilities between the Afghani and Pakistani governments. Coll argued that if the Pashtun people continue to be marginalized and disenfranchised, then neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan will find enduring peace and stability.
James Dobbins began by discounting the prevailing perception among Americans that the US was responsible for the formation of the coalition that expelled the Taliban and installed the Karzai government. The reality, rather, is that the US joined a preexisting international coalition that included Iran, India, Russia, and the Northern Alliance. He argued that the fragmentation of this international coalition and the unwillingness of the US to involve regional neighbors have undermined reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Dobbins asserted that any effort to rebuild a state such as Afghanistan requires the inclusion of its neighbors.
Dobbins examined both internal and external explanations for the failure of reconstruction in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been able to control neither the Taliban within its own country nor its porous border with Afghanistan. Internally, he points to the failure of the international coalition in providing essential services for Afghani citizens, the most important of which is security. He states that US aid in Afghanistan has been pitifully negligible as compared to other nation building efforts the US has undertaken. He concluded by reaffirming Weinbaum’s call for a clear division in action and attitude towards Iraq and Afghanistan. Dobbins declared that the central front in the war on terror is in Pakistan rather than Iraq, requiring a “reconceptualization of the global war on terrorism.”
Colonel Richard Giguère altered the tone of the panel by discussing the progress that has been made in the past five years in Afghanistan. Canada’s mission in Afghanistan has continued to be informed by its interest in contributing to international security. As Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan constitute its largest overseas engagement, it is deeply invested in the long term success of Afghanistan. Giguère noted that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are a part of NATO’s first deployment outside of Europe and if NATO loses control of Afghanistan to the Taliban, NATO could be deemed ineffectual.
The last panelist, Bruce Riedel, demonstrated the deteriorating state of affairs in Afghanistan by stating that in 2002 there were only two suicide bombings, but today there is one every five days. Reidel focused specifically on the significance of Taliban leaders such as Mullah Omar. As early as September of 2001, Omar predicted that there would be no end to the Taliban presence in Afghanistan and that President Bush’s threats to Taliban leaders were largely empty. It is leaders like Omar, Reidel argues, that have consistently delivered on their promises to the Afghani people. And, in fact, it is the US that “took its eye off the ball” by prematurely declaring victory.
Riedel was also fairly optimistic, claiming that as long as NATO is present in Afghanistan the Taliban will not take complete control. However, Riedel maintained that Omar and his followers will survive on a grassroots level, while working towards eroding the resolve of coalition forces. He closed by stating that the world community, led by the United States, needs to powerfully affirm its diplomatic support for Afghanistan, which will require a substantial increase in economic resources.
About this Event
Steve Coll, James Dobbins, Richard Giguère, Bruce Riedel and Marvin Weinbaum offered these remarks at the National Press Club Room in Washington, DC on November 13, 2006.
This event summary was written by Elizabeth McDonald. Elizabeth is a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and will graduate with a BA in Political Science and Public Policy and a minor in Economics. Elizabeth is currently an intern in the communications department at the Middle East Institute. This event summary was peer-edited by Stephen Bush, a graduate of Westmont College and current intern in the programs department of the Middle East Institute. Stephen majored in Political Science and has lived and worked in Egypt and the Palestinian Territories.