The panel discussion "Afghanistan, Pakistan and Regional Stability" took place at the 60th annual conference in November, 2006.
Afghanistan, Pakistan & Regional Stability
Steve Coll, James Dobbins, Colonel Richard Giguere, Bruce Reidel, Marvin Weinbaum
Marvin Weinbaum, Moderator
This has not been a good year for Afghanistan. The insurgency has gained momentum, employing more effective and sophisticated tactics with more deadly results. The delivery of humanitarian and planned reconstruction has become more difficult over much of the country. As you all know, poppy cultivation and production are setting new records. Violence even outside of the contested east and south is increasing, with predator local commanders and militias still ensconced and plans for disarmament set aside. More than ever before we're seeing that the leadership style and the administrative decisions of Hamid Karzai, the president, are being questioned. The operation of international forces has been subject to new criticisms and our continuing commitment to Afghanistan is by many held in doubt.
There's been a general unease now that we may be at a turning point in Afghanistan. Despite some apparent gains in state-building, a revived economy at least in certain areas, these five years generally though have not been good ones for most Afghans. We allowed the early trust and hope of the people throughout much of the country – trust in their government and in their foreign benefactors – we've let that trust slip away. In reality we had less time than we thought we had to get it right.
So there is a sense of urgency now that progress has to be made soon to win back the confidence of the Afghan people. There's wide agreement that that's going to take improvement in security, better governance, appreciable reconstruction – felt reconstruction – and dealing also of course with the poppy challenge. We can't succeed in any one of these without succeeding in all of them perhaps. I think that's been the great realization – that we can't deal with any one of these independently of the others.
For most Afghans, even if all of that seems to be going right, there's a sense here that all of it is contingent upon the neighbor – upon Pakistan. That, unless Pakistan's policies change, it will be impossible to contain the insurgency, to reverse the tide of this insurgency. There are some disconcerting developments in Pakistan. There appears to be, from all the evidence we have and my own personal observations, eroding support for Musharraf and even for the military, the most revered of the Pakistani institutions. There is greater concern here particularly with the insurgency in Baluchistan, the virtual state within a state along the frontier with Afghanistan, that the danger here of domestic instability exists, and in that the possible fragility of the partnership that the United States has with Pakistan. And particularly a concern about next year when the Pakistanis are scheduled – next October, if not earlier – to go to the polls. The problem of coming out of that experience with a government which is considered to be a legitimate one, and other decisions next year involving whether Musharraf will remain as commander of the army – whether he will take off his uniform to be president – and how he is elected president.
All of these add up to a great deal of unease about where we are in this relationship with Pakistan. I just want to conclude now and bring on the panel by saying I think it's very clear that the destinies of both these countries are very closely related. If either one of them does not succeed or at least does not remain reasonably able to manage its problems, the other is going to be greatly affected. For all of us, the future for the people of those two countries and the region generally and for global interests are at stake here. We're long past the time when we could say we'll take care of our interests and move on.
Let me conclude with that notion that for some of us, particularly given the panel we had earlier, the charge that we have is somehow in the public mind to decouple Afghanistan from Iraq.
We have a fine panel here to discuss these various topics and others. Let me first introduce Steve Coll. Steve is with The New Yorker now. You all know Steve from his book and also from his many years at The Washington Post.
Jim Dobbins is with the RAND Corporation but was one of our earliest representatives of the American government in Kabul and has a wealth of experience, and has continued to write about the region and conflict resolution more generally and is being recognized for that.
Colonel Giguere is our guest here from Canada and is someone who will bring to this panel some very on-the-ground observations about what's happening there at this point in time.
Finally, Bruce Riedel can give us a perspective of what it has been at the White House – he was in the National Security Council. Bruce is today with the Brookings Institution.
Steve Coll, The New Yorker:
Thank you, Marvin, and good afternoon. I wanted to pick up where Marvin left off in his opening remarks by talking a little bit in more detail about the Pakistan factor in the revival of the Taliban.
I want to start with a little bit of elementary history for those here who are not specialists, to set the stage for this short briefing. Pakistan during the late 1990s was one of three governments that recognized the Taliban as legitimate rulers in Afghanistan. We now know that they played a significant role in aiding the Taliban as they rose to national power in Afghanistan. The reasons that Pakistan's governments – and they were both civilian-led and military-led – pursued this policy are complex and I won't try to describe them all here, but they involved a longstanding desire by the government in Islamabad to control political space in Afghanistan for security reasons and also to deflect what they imagined to be hostile intent by India and other adversaries to use Afghanistan as a lever against Pakistan.
On September 11, of course, that policy was called into immediate question by demands made upon the government of Pakistan by the United States and by the obvious change in international affairs that the September 11 attacks produced. But five years later, as Marvin alluded to, there are questions about the policy of the government of Pakistan and whether in some sense it has reverted to the support for the Taliban that characterized its approach in the late 1990s. There's a lot of accusation back and forth between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan on this question. Sometimes more heat than light in these accusations. I thought I would start then with a review of what I think the open sources would describe as the facts about what we know about the use of Pakistani territory in the support of revived Taliban military activity and in particular in the upsurge of violent attacks this year, which has been noted in a public report just today. They've increased about fourfold over the last two or three years.
First of all, I think it's well understood that there are Taliban leadership councils operating in Pakistani territory – or they certainly have been operating in Pakistani territory. The Taliban leadership is organized in a series of shuras. The exact nature of their leadership functioning isn't known but it's generally understood that there has been a shura operating in the city of Quetta in Baluchistan, in Pakistan; another in the tribal area around Miramshahal, which is not directly governed by Islamabad but nonetheless is Pakistani national territory. There may also be some other significant leadership shuras in both Baluchistan outside of Quetta as well as in the Peshawar and northern areas.
Clearly there are significant number of cross-border movements related to violent attacks flowing across both these northern and southern regions. I don't want to suggest and I'm sure others who will follow me who aren't concentrating solely on Pakistan will make clear that the Taliban's strength is by no means solely derived from this space. But it is significant.
I think there is some evidence of contact between Pakistani army and intelligence officers and Taliban leaders. There is some circumstantial evidence that there may be training and logistics support but there's a lot of uncertainty about the nature and extent of this contact and support. It's a very complex set of relationships that have a long history and so discerning exactly what's going on is difficult.
What's more obvious and perhaps more significant to just describing what this sanctuary or this space is used for by the Taliban is to remind ourselves that one of the dominant political forces on the Pakistan side of the border are a series of interlocking religious political parties, particularly the JUI and the Jamaat-i-Islami, who have a long history with elements of the Taliban leadership and the movement and its infrastructure. These parties are in sort of fine feather these days, both in the provinces of North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and Baluchistan Province but also as a sort of more informal radicalizing force in the federally administered tribal areas, these agencies that border Afghanistan from roughly Quetta north.
These parties are also connected to a longstanding infrastructure of transportation and mosques and houses and other facilities that have been part of the religious and political infrastructure that supported the Taliban going back to the mid-1990s. They continue to connect into Pakistani cities, into safe houses and institutions in those cities, and to ports like Karachi where they easily connect to networks outside of Pakistan. Sometimes illicit networks that involve smuggling drugs or other materials and sometime the proselytizing networks where money flows back and forth. It's probably down those pathways, for instance, that sophisticated IED technology has been physically imported into Pakistan to support Taliban attacks, although the web and other mechanisms don't require that it pass through that way.
Very briefly, Marvin alluded to the idea that Pakistan has a policy or there are questions about Pakistan's policy toward the Taliban today. I just wanted to address two questions or to frame that a little more specifically by talking first about the question of Pakistani capacity to support or to deter the Taliban, and then the question of the intent in particular of the Musharraf government today. What is the intent of the government? What do we know or not know about that?
On the capacity side, the Pakistan army has a weak record in counterinsurgency. They have a weak record in the federally administered tribal areas, where they have attempted to use military force to gain greater political control in the last couple of years. They also have a weak record in Baluchistan, where they have struggled at times, even in the last 12 months, notwithstanding some successes against the Bukti clan. For the army and the government of Pakistan – not to pull those apart because we don't have time – but the problem of Pashtun religious radicalism and nationalism is an enormously complex one, comparable in scale to the problem that Kurdish nationalism poses to neighboring governments. Though the makeup of the problem is different, it's cross-border and complex and it runs into right into every Pakistani institution, including the Pakistan army, which is of course officered and led by a number of important Pashtun generals.
So if the Pakistan army decides to change its policy toward the Taliban, who are best understood as an expression of Pashtun political and religious aspirations, it has a very hard road to travel even if it is clear about its intent. So what is its intent? I don't believe that there's any evidence that the Pakistan army has a strategy of trying to install the Taliban in power, which was their strategy in the 1990s, but I do believe the army has increasingly divided views about the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the region and that there are rising resentments within the army about the policies adopted immediately after September 11. This has led, perhaps by compromise and perhaps by deliberation, to a sort of mixed approach. Zia used to say in the 1980s: we've got to keep the pot boiling at just the right temperature. I would imagine that some general or another has recalled that phrase in recent discussions.
In Musharraf's recently published memoir you can see also that while he does provide some rhetorical support for the independence and integrity of the government of Afghanistan and for President Karzai in particular, he also makes clear that he regards the northern ethnic groups in Afghanistan that have had some influence in the post-9/11 Afghan government as implacably opposed to the security and interests of Pakistan. His writing about that is really quite plain and I think does reflect his actual view of the history of the struggle.
To finish, some issues for the future. One is the difficulty of balancing the short-term emergency of radical Islamic infrastructure in Pakistan with the long-term need for stability in the region. This has been a problem that the United States and other governments have wrestled with for 20 years. It's a difficult problem. But right now, as you see in these Al Qaeda-influenced or inspired attacks emerging out of Britain, there's a real emergency in the short run about managing the consequences of 20 years of radicalization and warfare on two borders in Pakistan. On the other hand, everyone recognizes that in the long term you can't solve those problems by emergency measures. Pluralism and politics are the only enduring solutions available. So pursuing both of those at the same time is difficult.
Lastly, as I alluded to earlier, the Taliban ultimately are a problem of Pashtun politics. Pashtun politics are a problem both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Until a way forward that allows Pashtuns to pursue their interests and voice their grievances outside the context of either independence-seeking, sort of nationalism on the one hand or extremism and radical Islam on the other hand, it's going to be difficult to find an enduring and stable order on either side of the border. Thank you.
James Dobbins, RAND Corporation
Thank you. There's a perception in the United States that in the aftermath of 9/11, the United States put together an international coalition, intervened in Afghanistan, expelled the Taliban and installed a successor government. This of course is not true. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States effectively joined and supported a longstanding coalition that had been fighting the Taliban for most of a decade. That coalition consisted of Iran, Russia, India and the Northern Alliance. It was with the assistance of a few dozen CIA case officers and about 200 American Special Forces and the asset of airpower that that coalition was able to topple the Taliban and occupy virtually every population center in the country by December of that year, at which point the Karzai government was installed.
It was largely this coalition that also assured the success of the Bonn Conference which negotiated an interim constitution for Afghanistan and a new government. I can recall the morning that the Bonn Declaration was first circulated by the UN, several of us were sitting around reading it for the first time and it was the Iranian delegation who noted that there was no mention of democracy in the document and that perhaps this ought to be mentioned. This was before the Bush Administration had discovered democratization as the key to stabilizing the Middle East. I had no instructions on the subject but was willing to go along with the Iranian proposal. It was also the Iranians who argued that the document should also commit the new Afghan government to cooperate against international terrorism.
Later in the meeting, just as it was about to conclude, we hit a major roadblock. We had agreed on the Bonn Declaration but there was still disagreement as to who should actually form the government of Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance delegate, who led of course the most influential of the delegations there, was insisting on having 18 of the 24 ministries on the grounds that they had, after all, won the war and occupied the country. Most of us felt that this was excessive and you wouldn't be able to present this as a balanced and representative government unless they moderated their demands. Brahimi was rather frantic. It was two in the morning. The German chancellor was supposed to arrive at nine to sign the agreement and we didn't have a deal. So I suggested he get together all the national representatives who were still awake at the time and we would meet as a group with the Northern Alliance delegate and try to persuade him to moderate his demands.
The delegates who were awake – and this was something of a self-selective process; if you were still awake at two in the morning it meant you cared a lot about the outcome – consisted of the Russian, the American, the German (who was of course the host), the Indian and the Iranian representatives. We all spent the next two hours arguing with the Northern Alliance delegate, who was their Minister of Interior, Younus Qanooni, that he had to give up some of these ministries. Finally after two hours and no progress, the Iranian delegate, Javad Zarif, asked Qanooni to come over to the corner and said, let me talk to you in private for a second. He took him over, talked to him for a few seconds, and he came back and gave up two ministries. We had a deal and we went on.
So clearly this was a coalition effort. Pakistan was not a very active player. They were present in Bonn. They were largely passive and that was frankly as much as was required and all that could be reasonably expected. Indeed, a more active role might have been counterproductive because almost everybody at the Bonn Conference was highly antagonistic to Pakistan by virtue of their long-term support for the Taliban. But they were there and they did support the result.
Now, as I think Steve in his excellent presentation has indicated, that coalition is fragmenting. If we learned anything about nation-building and putting together failed states, it's that you can't do it if the neighbors don't want you to. Neighboring states have too much at stake not to exert their influence, and they have too much influence to be ignored. They need to be engaged and brought into a collaborative process. To stabilize Bosnia in 1995 we had to bring in Milosevic and Tudjman, the two men who were personally responsible for the genocide we were trying to stop, in order to get the Dayton Accords and then to implement the Dayton Accords. In 1999, who was it we turned to to mediate the end of the war in Kosovo? It was Russia we turned to to mediate the end of the war in Kosovo, not despite the fact that they were supporting our enemy but because they were supporting the enemy and therefore were likely to have decisive influence. Again, this was the key in 2001 in Afghanistan and I would argue that it will be the key to any successful effort to stabilize Iraq.
The current difficulties in Afghanistan can be attributed to two causes. One is external and one is internal. The external cause is the gradual reemergence of a Pakistani-based Taliban insurgency and the internal is the failure of the international coalition led by the United States and the Afghan government to take advantage of the several years of relative security and a benign international environment to build up the capacity to provide government services to the populations in the border regions, including the most important public service, which is of course is security. This to some extent can be blamed on Karzai and the Afghans. Karzai is an honorable, decent, extremely engaging personality. He is not particularly forceful or decisive but he is extremely good at bringing together a number of diverse elements. I would argue that he was and probably is still what we need in that position. Some of these disadvantages are simply the flip side of his very positive attributes.
On the US side there was a conscious decision in late 2001, early 2002, to absolutely minimize the scale of the American and international commitment. The administration determined that US troops would do no peacekeeping whatsoever and that there would be no international peacekeepers allowed outside Kabul. This posture was over time reversed but only when we were well past the period when countries were lining up, as they were in late 2001, to do something helpful in Afghanistan. A window of opportunity was missed.
Aid levels for Afghanistan were quite low by historic standards and compared to other major nation-building operations. In fact, Afghanistan is the least resourced of any of the major nation-building operations that the US has engaged in over the last 60 years in terms of a per capita application of manpower and money. The average Bosniak, for instance, got $800 a year for several years following the end of their civil war from the international community. The average Afghan gets $50 a year. There's a big difference in terms of what you can expect for $800 a year or $50 a year. Of course the application of military manpower, the security, is about 1/50th the size. That is, the force in Bosnia on a per capita basis was 50 times bigger than the international force, including American coalition troops, in Afghanistan.
The obvious answer is if you apply low levels of military manpower and economic assistance in a post-conflict situation, what you get are low levels of security and economic development. That's in large measure what we've seen.
But the insurgency in Afghanistan is not an outraged reaction of a population that's turned against its government. It's largely a manifestation of events that are taking place in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, which the Afghan government has not composed itself adequately to be able to deal with. After all, as Steve indicated, most Pashtuns don't live in Afghanistan. They live in Pakistan. It's like three-fifths, two-fifths. The Taliban is a manifestation of their national and other sentiments, grievances and objectives. Pakistan is quite content to push that – to externalize those particular pressures rather than to deal with them internally.
Somebody said, and I'll finish here, that we need to separate Afghanistan from Iraq. I know there's an argument that Iraq has been a diversion from our real problem which is in Afghanistan. I would argue that in fact Iraq is a diversion from our real problem which is in Pakistan. If there's a central front to the war on terror, it's Pakistan. It's not Iraq. The terrorists in the UK don't go to Iraq to get inspiration and guidance for terrorist acts. Bin Laden isn't in Iraq. Iraq did not assist the North Korean or Iranian nuclear developments. All of those things occurred in Pakistan.
But if Pakistan is the central front in the war on terror, it's not one that's susceptible to military solutions – at least not American military solutions. We're not going to invade Pakistan. We're not going to bomb Islamabad. It's going to take a combination of diplomatic and economic and other forms of pressure and incentives and inducements to transform that society. If we were spending a tenth of what we spend every month in Iraq on counterinsurgency in supporting the Pakistani educational system, we might have achieved a great deal more.
So I do think it's time for a reconceptualization of the global war on terror, a recognition that the central front is Pakistan, and a further recognition that this is not a war and certainly not a front which there are military solutions.
Richard Giguere, Royal Canadian Forces
Good day, everybody. I'm Colonel Richard Giguere. I am the Canadian Forces military attaché working at the embassy. My background is infantry. I am born in Quebec City. I am working in Washington since two years now so maybe you will notice that I've picked up a little bit the Washingtonian accent. It's a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss Canada's mission in Afghanistan. I was there in 2004 in Kabul as the chief of staff of the NATO multinational brigade at that time.
Canada is part of an international, UN-authorized, NATO-led effort in Afghanistan and we are there at the request of the democratically elected Afghan government. With close to 2,500 soldiers part of the Canadian task force in Afghanistan, it is by far Canada's biggest and most important overseas engagement.
The primary purpose of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan is to contribute to a secure environment. It's about giving the Afghan people hope for a better future. Without a secure environment, we cannot advance development and reconstruction. That is why the Canadian forces are involved in a full range of operations, from combat operations to humanitarian assistance, to rebuilding Afghanistan along the line of the Three Block War concept.
We have made measurable progress in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has implemented its first multi-party elections. Millions of refugees have returned. Children have started to return to school. Armed insurgents have been demobilized and the Afghan National Army and the Afghan national police force have been stood up. The Canadian forces and our partners are working to reinforce the Afghan National Army and the Afghan national police. We want them to have the ability to provide for the security and stability of their country alone, just as their government wants. This is a crucial step in the development of a strong central government in Afghanistan, one that can bring Afghanistan into the international community.
Canadians are not just conducting combat operations. The Canadian forces are there to help create an atmosphere of stability and trust where frankly it will be impossible for the Taliban to again take hold. But as Prime Minister Harper pointed out in his address to the United Nations last September, the challenges facing Afghanistan are enormous. There will be no quick fixes. Moreover, success cannot be assured by military means alone. This we all recognize, for success also requires a strong and unwavering civilian contribution – educators, engineers, elections advisors, direct aid and technical assistance. The list is lengthy but the contributions essential.
Reconstruction and development in Afghanistan are our fundamental goals and they remain a high priority for Canada. That's why the Canadian forces and their civilian counterparts from other government departments are taking a whole of government approach to help Afghanistan to rebuild. They are providing an opportunity for Afghans to rebuild their country following the Afghanistan national development strategy and in cooperation with the international community. Our military is supporting these objectives by providing a safe and secure environment, an environment that will in turn accelerate the pace of development and aid delivery, prerequisites for effective and long-lasting stability.
The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is obviously of concern to us. Part of the Taliban's tenacity comes from the fact that they can reach safe havens in Pakistan. Pakistan has made efforts to secure the border but we think more can be done. Canada has made clear to Pakistan our intention to strengthen military cooperation. We have just recently added a second defense attaché officer in Pakistan. We have also been exploring ways of improving collaboration. This could include sending one or two Canadian exchange officers to work within Pakistan military headquarters in western Pakistan.
According to the news, military commanders from Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO reviewed plans last Saturday to build a jointly staffed center to share intelligence in their battle against extremist militants. The commanders were in Kabul for the nineteenth meeting between the three forces that are together fighting unrest that spans the Afghanistan and Pakistan border. Part of their discussions focused on a planned joint military intelligence sharing center, expected to be based in the Afghan capital. The center will be staffed by Afghani, Pakistani and ISAF officials and will work to understand what information can quickly be shared in a mutually beneficial fashion. The meeting also heard reports on border security and efforts to counter improvised bombs regularly used by the insurgents. This initiative is clearly a step in the right direction.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai stressed during his visit in Canada at the end of September, a democratic nation is not built overnight, not in one or two elections. So in this regard we will know we have been successful in Afghanistan when the country and its government are stabilized, when the terrorists and their local support networks are defeated and denied sanctuary, and when the Afghan security forces are well established and under the firm and legitimate control of the government of Afghanistan. When it is clear that these developments are irreversible, then we will know we have reached our goal.
Canada's presence in Afghanistan is about fulfilling our international responsibilities. NATO countries have been working together to defeat terrorism at its source and Canada is playing a leadership role, mainly in the south. We have been encouraging other members of NATO to do more in southern Afghanistan, to share more of the burden. We are looking for allies to contribute more troops and to remove the restrictions on the forces they have already committed.
Afghanistan won't be rebuilt overnight. However, we are making solid progress. Since the UN provided the mandate for ISAF in 2001, Afghanistan's gross national product has more than doubled. The per capita income has almost doubled. The number of children in school has quintupled and thousands of kilometers of road have been paved.
Canada made a commitment to Afghanistan. We will honor that commitment and in collaboration with our allies ensure that the Afghan people have a brighter future. Canada knew from the beginning that this mission would be difficult. Since 2002, 42 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in this mission. But the Canadian forces are among the best in the world and they are making progress in one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan. We have to take into consideration the strategic importance of Kandahar Province, the Taliban's center of gravity, to the overall ISAF effort in the south. This is a point of view that if we don't succeed in Kandahar, we will have difficulty succeeding elsewhere. In the medium to longer term, the most fruitful approach will be to continue concentrating on building up the Afghan security forces. Thank you very much.
Bruce Riedel, Brookings Institution
The downside of being the final speaker is that usually most of the good ideas have already been put on the table, and I see that happened today. The upside is you can simply agree with most of them and second them. I hope I can do a little bit more than that and give you some more ideas about what needs to be done in Afghanistan.
Our Canadian colleague has reminded us quite correctly that we have made a lot of important progress in Afghanistan since 2001. There have been impressive developments in terms of raising the standard of living, putting people back into school and ending the horror of the Taliban emirate. But it's also obvious that the security situation is nowhere like what we had hoped it to be. To give you one example, in 2002 there were a total of two suicide operations in all of Afghanistan. Today we're averaging one every five days. The security situation in the south and east has deteriorated significantly.
All of this has developed remarkably closely to the script that was outlined in late 2001 and early 2002 by the leader of the Taliban, the self-proclaimed "commander of the faithful," Mullah Omar. At that time he lamented the catastrophe of the collapse of the Islamic emirate but he promised that they would be back. Just as the mujaheddin had come back from the Soviet invasion in order to make life hell for the Soviets, they would come back to make life hell for the Karzai government and its Western supporters.
Mullah Omar was also very quick to predict that he would not be captured and that he and his Al Qaeda comrades would continue to lead the war against the West. Listen to what he said as early as late September 2001. "I am considering two promises: one is the promise of God, the other of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God's path, you can reside anywhere and will be protected. The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which promise is fulfilled."
Mullah Omar also reached out right from the beginning to other Islamic movements. One of his first statements in 2002 was an appeal to the Palestinian intifada to continue the fight. Most recently he has appealed over and over again to his colleagues in Iraq to continue to struggle against the Coalition there. He even went so far this summer as to praise Hezbollah for its war against Israel, a remarkable statement given the intensity of hatred between the Taliban and all Shi'a.
A constant theme in all of this rhetoric has been that the Taliban will be back and that time is on their side. This history of rhetoric is important. Afghans, like most people, remember what other people have said. What they have seen is the Taliban leadership deliver on its promise. Validity comes when what you say is proven to be true.
We've already had some discussion about why this came about. I think I agree with the points that both Jim and Steve have made. First of all, the Taliban was in many cases never really defeated in 2001. They suffered a few losses on the battlefield and then did what any good guerrilla movement does: they ran away and hid in the countryside until the bad guys (from their standpoint) had gone away. That's what the Taliban did. It also adjusted its tactics. It imported from Iraq, as it saw how successful it was, suicide bombing and improvised explosive devices.
Second, I also agree with Jim that the coalition, and particularly the United States, took its eyes off the ball. We were too quick to declare victory. We were too quick to declare, as Secretary Rumsfeld did at the time, that the Taliban were in the dustbin of history. US aid to the country was really at a pitiful level. Jim has given you some of the per capita figures, but in 2002 and 2003 we spent less than a billion dollars each year in trying to revive a country that had suffered from a quarter-century of war. And we put too few troops in.
Thirdly, as Steve has rightly pointed out, we had a problem with the Pakistani safe haven. The Taliban had a long and intimate relationship with Pakistani intelligence services and with the Pakistani army. It's very difficult to completely sever those.
But it had more than that. The government of Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s created a stew of different groups. It began with the mujahiddin. It added in Kashmiri groups. It added in other anti-Indian groups – Sikhs. Then it brought the Taliban in. Out of this stew it created a melting pot of various jihadist organizations with their own agendas.
In 2001, Musharraf tried to pick into the stew and say, okay, I really don't like this piece and this piece, but I'm not going to upset the stew because I need the rest of it. It simply hasn't worked out very effectively. The intimacy of these relationships between Kashmiri groups, Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISI and others has been clear for a very long time. It was very dramatically illustrated in fact at the end of the 1990s, during the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian air flight from Katmandu to Kandahar. When you got on the ground in Kandahar, what you found was the whole stew was there. When the Indian government caved in and gave up the Kashmiri prisoners the terrorists wanted, who arranged the victory banquet? By the best account we have, it was Osama bin Laden, who congratulated everyone on the fine job they had done together.
My point here is not to accuse Pakistan of everything that Hamid Karzai accuses it of. My point here is to illustrate how difficult Musharraf's problem is in breaking down this stew.
How serious is the Taliban threat today? As long as NATO forces stay in the country, the Taliban will not be able to take over Kabul, Kandahar or other major cities. They simply lack the firepower to do so. But that is not Mullah Omar's objective now. His objective is the objective of every classic guerrilla movement: to survive in the countryside and gradually wear down the resistance and will of his enemies.
What do we do about it? Later this month the NATO allies will gather at a summit in Riga, Latvia, at the head of state level. I think this is a critical opportunity for the NATO allies, ourselves, our Canadian allies and our European allies to put Afghanistan back at the top of an agenda. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been pleading with the allies for months, even years now, for more troops and more airpower to fight the insurgency. Persistent shortfalls in helicopters and other key systems have not been filled. It is time to fill those. It is time to make a major contribution to the security environment.
But even more critical than filling those is the need for a massive reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. This country needs the world community to step up to the plate. We ought to be offering the same levels of reconstruction assistance that Jim has pointed out we've done in other places. Afghanistan needs a strong affirmation of support in Riga and an equally strong commitment of resources, military and financial, to stop the Taliban resurgence. The allies need to do more and America in particular needs to lead. US assistance needs to be dramatically increased. The administration is asking for $1.2 billion in 2007, way too little to achieve what is necessary.
We should also reach out to some of those other coalition partners that Jim mentioned were so important in 2001. India, for example, is one of the largest aid donors to Afghanistan. India recognizes the need to do something to prevent a Taliban resurgence. As I said, it has already been a victim of Taliban-supported terrorism. India should be brought more into the tent of supporting Afghanistan. That will of course cause problems with Pakistan. But it is long since past the time to talk softly with Pakistan about the situation in Afghanistan. President Bush was right to try to engage Musharraf and Karzai together over dinner last month but the challenge we face here is more than a challenge of one evening, and will require a sustained engagement to convince Pakistan to give up all parts of the stew and to get out of the business.
I applaud the proposal to have Pakistan involved in intel sharing on the ground in Afghanistan. But I suspect what we need first is the political will in Islamabad to really do something with it.
Finally, I think the United States also needs to separate the Afghan problem from the Iraq problem. Far too often, the same people in the US government have dealt with both. Afghanistan deserves the priority that it should have, a special coordinator with the political clout to get the resources necessary to do this job. The stakes in Afghanistan are very high, but with the growing disillusionment with Iraq in America and elsewhere there is a real risk that Afghanistan will be branded just another failed adventure. Mullah Omar, as I already said, is counting on that. That is why he encourages his counterparts in Iraq. We shouldn't fall into that trap. Whatever we do in Iraq, we cannot afford to fail again in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is where Al Qaeda planned and prepared for September 11. It is probably where they are planning their additional operations.
In addition, Afghanistan is now NATO's first significant out-of-Europe operation and its first ever land war. If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the alliance will probably face irrelevancy. Let me stop there.
Questions and Answers
Marvin Weinbaum: The questions that we've received really cover quite a wide spectrum of interests. I'd like to start us off though, because Pakistan has really become the centerpiece here this afternoon. A number of people, especially Bruce now at the end of the discussion, have mentioned that we ought to be pressing harder on the Musharraf military-led government. I think though as our questions suggest and I'd like to reinterpret here, what can we do really with Pakistan? Are we making some assumptions – and this goes back to something Steve Coll mentioned – about the capacity of this leadership in Pakistan to deliver even were it sincere in meeting its promises, as it has done a great deal of that up to this point? Are we asking, in other words, something that Pakistan cannot do given the current political landscape in Pakistan?
Coll: I'll take a pass at that. I think as you suggest, if you ask the question of what can the government of President Musharraf today do, you immediately confront questions of capacity and will both, and they're difficult to disentangle. But as Bruce suggested, the problem you're trying to solve is so much larger than that which any army in any state could hope to address. You're talking about the consequences of 25 years of warfare in which the management of jihadist groups by the army has been a persistent tactic on both the western and eastern fronts. This has created diverse radical infrastructure inside Pakistan which has gained in influence, although it is not the predominant force in either Pakistani society or politics yet, mercifully.
So you need a comprehensive strategy, is the short answer. You need a comprehensive strategy that addresses the potential of Pakistani pluralism, which is significant and neglected by the top-heavy and narrow interactions with the Musharraf government. At the same time you need a realistic approach to the short-term emergency of jihadist plotting to take lives in India, Britain, the United States and for that matter Pakistan. You need to do both of those things at the same time.
If you ask the question, where in Pakistani history during these 25 years has success ever come from – that is, where has the tide of jihadism that we've just described been reversed or at least checked, it's usually come from two different complementary sources. One, successful pluralism – moments of true democratic, constitutional health. That may be a strong word in reference to Pakistan, but moving in the right direction on the one hand. And then also from moments where the army has felt that they really had something to lose if they didn't take risks to change policy. I don't think either of those conditions prevails now. The army does not feel they have anything to lose if they don't take serious risks to change policy and the potential of Pakistani pluralism to help wring out the danger of this radicalism is not being exploited, except to the extent that economic reforms are succeeding and that's one platform to step on.
Question: A related question asks about the possible irreconcilable contradiction between counterterrorism and stability in Pakistan. I take that to mean: is it not the case that most in Pakistan do not view what is the counterterrorism operations in the broader areas as their war? Is this perhaps now, especially in the observation that so much of this is being done at the behest of the United States, is this in effect adding fire to the problems that Musharraf has within his own society? It may very well be that his own increasingly tenuous position is because he is viewed as being more interested in furthering the interests of the United States rather than that of the people of Pakistan. Any thoughts on that?
Riedel: I think that's definitely the case. Musharraf is increasingly seen as playing our game while we increasingly doubt whether he is playing our game. But in the end it's difficult to be all that sympathetic for General Musharraf because he's always had the alternative of doing what Steve has hinted at, which is trying to move back toward a more pluralistic and indeed democratic form of government in Pakistan. I think Steve made an important observation. The periods in which Pakistan has tended to walk away from connections – not exclusively but for the most part – with the stew that I described has been when it's had leadership from civilian government. The army finds it all too helpful to use these instruments for its larger purpose, which is the overall struggle with India which guides Pakistani army raison d'être. A little more pressure on getting Pakistan back to having a functioning, elected civilian leadership would be a good first step, in my opinion.
Question: We have a question here about Baluchistan and the possible role that the insurgency in Baluchistan is playing on the Afghan insurgency as well. The way in which Baluchistan figures into the issues that are being raised in Afghanistan. That includes of course the possible Indian role, at least the accusations in that regard.
Coll: Baluchistan is a province that is lightly populated but the population that it possesses is a mixture of refugees from Afghanistan, largely Pashtun identity, native Pashtuns and native Baluchs as well as increasingly Punjabis who have come in from outside to settle. It's a sort of subset of the stew that Bruce has described.
The point I would want to make about Baluchistan goes to this problem of pluralism or the uses of pluralism in addressing gradual radicalization in Pakistan. The natural allies of a secular or moderate political order in Pakistan are the same Baluch nationalists whom the army regards as an instrument of Indian mischief-making and a threat to Pakistan's national integrity. They have their arguments, the army, about the historical activities of some of these Baluch groups. But the point is that if the government is controlled entirely by army and ISI, then the natural role that secular-minded Baluch political parties would play, as they have in the past – for instance during the first Benazir Bhutto administration, the chief minister of Baluchistan was the same man who the Pakistan army assassinated essentially early this year. He was part of a very complex political equation, not always the easiest person for the Pakistan government to deal with. But it's an indication that pluralism is directly related to the de-radicalization of both Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province. You could make the same argument about NWFP. So there's a lost opportunity where all politics comes from the top down and wears an olive uniform.
Question: One last set of questions here, not surprisingly about some recent developments in armed attacks on the border area, the agreement that was reached in North Waziristan. What is the panel's view about whether this has furthered or set back the kind of cooperation that we've been hoping for from Pakistan?
Riedel: I think what we've seen in these recent events is the inability of the government of Pakistan to come up with a unified strategy. It's all schizophrenic. One day it negotiates a deal, the next day it bombs the people who negotiated the deal. That reflects the pressures that are on General Musharraf from various quarters, including us. But it goes to the core of the problem. You cannot deal with this if it's going to be schizophrenic, if we're going to say the carrots in the stew this week are okay but the onions we're shipping off to Guantanamo Bay. You got to figure out where you stand on this issue and the Pakistani government has chosen instead to pursue a policy of constant short-range adjustments in it. It becomes more and more difficult to sustain that over time because people see through it.
Steve pointed out Baluchistan. Only a few years ago the Musharraf government was trying to coopt the new Islamist leadership in Baluchistan into supporting his administration because he had prevented the traditional legal parties from having any role. Now he's engaged in a very serious war in Baluchistan and there are some in Pakistan who are saying this threatens to be another Bangladesh for Pakistan. I don't think the Pakistani army will ever tolerate that happening, but it shows the results of a very schizophrenic policy.
Question: It's very interesting how President Musharraf has accepted on behalf of the army full responsibility for the attack, which he says was carried out by helicopter gunships, and does so even certainly with the recognition that this is not going to play well in Pakistan. At the same time of course, some people on the ground are saying no, there were Predator missiles fired or it was a joint operation. Certainly he has not denied the fact that there was a great deal of intelligence sharing. It's one of the worst-kept secrets that there has been close cooperation on the intelligence side. But it is interesting that Musharraf had to keep the United States out of it, taking the full responsibility even with all the negatives that went with it because far worse than taking that responsibility was the idea that somehow the United States had violated Pakistani airspace for a military attack. Even worse than that is to say no, there wasn't cooperation, they did it anyway, which said the United States disregarded Pakistan sovereignty. So he was left with not very much choice here.
Jim, I've got a question for you. You mentioned the need for stability to engage the enemy, but isn't one of the reasons for the failure of the Karzai government the fact that it's allowed warlords and drug lords into the government?
Dobbins: The major warlords in the country have been rather successfully marginalized over the first several years, particularly considering the fact that he owed his elevation to them and that they controlled most of the country. But people like Fahim and Ismail Khan and Dostum and others have seen their private armies largely disarmed and they've been relegated to secondary positions, if any, in the government. So it's actually been fairly successful in coopting, if you will. The strategy clearly was one of cooption. It was, with the exception of hardcore Taliban, an effort to bring everybody into a big tent, offer them all some prospect. Given the very limited commitment that we were prepared to make, this was a reasonable and indeed essential strategy.
There's no doubt that the growth of the drug economy, which is the only real form of successful reconstruction in the country and is largely responsible for what prosperity has occurred, has a profoundly corrupting influence on the government and all the institutions of the state. Again, in the absence of substantial alternative forms of assistance and livelihood for the population, it's hard to see what the alternative was. An aggressive program of eradication would almost undoubtedly have antagonized large sectors of the population and increased support for the insurgency.
On the other hand, those who are profiting from the drug economy have an incentive to promote a certain degree of insecurity in the country. They probably don't want it taken over by the Taliban but they don't want it taken over by the government either. Therefore one assumes that those in the drug economy are feeding the insurgency to some degree and promoting their own interests by maintaining a relative level of lawlessness and insecurity in the countryside.
Question: Would you say also that they've capitalized on the government's program in depicting themselves as somehow those who are going to sustain that local economy against the government that's trying to destroy what economy there is? Hasn't that been part of the problem too? Having themselves eliminated poppy in 2000, that right now they've become the protectors in a way of the growers because that politically or in terms of gaining the loyalty or support of local populations is what they have to do.
Dobbins: Perhaps, although the government hasn't been – there hasn't been enough forced eradication to make the prospect of it a serious issue, I would think.
Question: Richard, I think one interesting question here of several: if the NATO contributing countries continue to hold back on troops and they've declined to not only increase their numbers in most parts but to place them in harm's way, as have the Dutch, Canadians and of course the Brits, do you see the possibility of using private security forces? Another question puts that particularly in terms of dealing with the drug trade.
Giguere: There is already a lot of private security people in Afghanistan and those places. I don't think that would be the solution. Like our colleague said earlier, that famous Riga summit that is coming will be very important on the specific issue of troop contribution, burden-sharing. Canada is very clear on this. We see the Kandahar Province as the center of gravity of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. If we don't succeed there, it's going to be difficult to succeed in this whole mission.
So I don't personally think that private security business is the solution. We need to find a way. Because this is really a test for the alliance as well. So I think those issues will be discussed at Riga.
If I may go back on the question you just raised about potential warlords or drug trafficking people in the government, I think you have to take into consideration the human aspect of that question. I was there in 2004 and potentially still at that time we had some warlords or drug trafficking people in the government, but what do you do? When I was there in 2004, more and more Afghans were coming back from the European capitals, from big universities, saying, I have an MBA, I have a PhD, and I'm here to help my country. Well, guess what the answer was? Where were you the last couple of years when we were fighting that war? So that's the type of challenges and friction that President Karzai had to face. Potentially the people he had in his government at the beginning were not the best educated to rule the country. In those parts of the world, the status of a gentleman is very important. So you have to take care how you manage your people, those who are present, those who want to come back. So that was not an easy question for him to manage.
Question: Also picking up on something you said a moment ago about the warlords, the real people that we're talking about – wouldn't you agree? – are not those names like Dostum and Ismail Khan. Those people have been coopted. Those people threw their lot in with the government because it's in their interest to do so. There's even talk that Ismail Khan was pressured to go to Kabul and accept a ministry by the Iranians, who said no, don't throw down the gauntlet to the government. The real problem for most Afghans are the commanders, the people in the villages – call them the sub-commanders. These are the people who are preying upon the local population. That is probably, as much as anything, what has turned people against this government – their inability to change that reality for most people, together with naturally the fact that the lack of employment, the expectations. Afghan expectations were never high but we haven't even met those minimal kinds of expectations.
Now we go to the United States. Naturally the question has been raised, the election. What difference if any does that make? Not just for our Afghan policy but the way in which we address President Musharraf.
Riedel: The reaction I've monitored in the Afghan press and in Pakistan as well is, is the baby going to be thrown out with the bath water? That's one way you can put it. If you don't understand my simile, it is: if America cuts and runs, or exits or whatever you want to call it, in Iraq, will it do the same thing in Afghanistan? Afghans have a long memory. They remember that we have walked away from the Afghan problem before. Pakistanis have an even longer memory if possible, and a history of believing the United States always likes to take Pakistan for a ride and then when it gets to the altar we always seem to find some way out the back door of the church. So that's the reaction there.
I think if one looks though at the posture of some of the senior spokesmen for the Democratic Party in the last year or so, many of them have been correctly making a significant difference between Afghanistan and Iraq. John Kerry, after all, called for adding 10,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan and others have spoken the same way. I can't speak for them but I would agree that we ought to see the stakes here as very high.
Just in the last week, the head of the British internal security service (MI-5) gave quite an interesting speech in which she said that since September 11, MI-5 has detected in one level or another fairly advanced plotting in 30 different occasions for attacks in the United Kingdom. Almost all of those plots led one way or another back to the Afghan-Pakistan border region. It's clear to me that the Al Qaeda leadership believes that the most effective way to recreate 9/11 is with a British passport. That's what they were thinking of doing this August on flights across the Atlantic.
Some people say this is all just spontaneous activity. I tend to disagree. Since the attacks on July 7, 2005, on the British metro system, Ayman Zawahiri has shown on the Al Qaeda audio system the martyrdom wills of two of the four attackers. I don't think you get martyrdom wills from two out of four attackers by going on eBay and trying to see if you can be the one who bids the highest for them. You get that because you have an intimate connection with the operation at one point or another.
Whatever one thinks of Iraq, and I understand you had a lively discussion of that before lunch, Afghanistan is the place where 9/11 was plotted and where we have every reason to believe the perpetrators of that operation and in particular the trio that made it happen – Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Mullah Omar – are still operating.
Question: I agree. I think we all do. One of the strengths here is the fact that this has been bipartisan. The Afghanistan project has been a bipartisan project. When President Karzai was here a couple months ago, it was interesting that he was standing together with the president and was sort of sandbagged into supporting the Iraq policy. I thought at that time this was – even President Musharraf saw the value in creating some distance here. He did not. Last week when everyone was trying to get as far away as they could after the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld, President Karzai was about the only one, who I read at least, outside of the president himself, who had praiseworthy things to say about the former secretary. From my own point of view, I think someone ought to get to President Karzai and explain to him something about American politics.
At this point we have about five minutes left. I think we've done justice to all of our questions here. Would anyone on the panel like to give us some concluding statements?
Dobbins: I'd just say, apropos of my point, that the real heart of the problem is in Pakistan, and not just the Afghan problem but a lot of other problems. What is needed is an integrated solution that addresses several aspects. One is to treat the Afghan-Pakistani border region as a single, integrated problem with a set of solutions, assistance programs, external pressures applied across the alliance in order to try to deal with the challenges posed by that region.
The second, and I think Bruce and Steve alluded to this, is the importance of promoting a return to civilian democratic rule in Pakistan. Pakistan may actually be one of the countries where democratization is a good idea and where it might actually be stabilizing rather than destabilizing, based on opinion polls' support for moderate parties in the country.
Thirdly, the need to address and resolve the Kashmiri problem, which is at the heart of the radicalization of Pakistani politics. Therefore, little as the administration would like to or indeed most Americans would like to, to recognize that the Indian relationship has to be a product of the Pakistani relationship. Much as we would like to say we're going to pursue each of these on their own merits and we're not going to allow one to be hamstrung or influenced by the other, in the real world they are connected and we need to be very careful. India may in the long term be a useful counterweight to China. Who knows? But at the moment that's not a very pressing problem. The pressing problem is Pakistan and what to do about it. We need to play the Indian relationship in a way that helps resolve those issues – Kashmir, democratization in Pakistan, and the Afghan-Pakistani border region – not in ways that exacerbate it.
Marvin Weinbaum: I would also add, about a year and a half ago, maybe a little less, the United States announced that it was going to reduce its troop commitments by 3,000 in Afghanistan. That seemed like a reasonable move because we had just then announced that we were going to bring NATO into playing a much larger role eventually and now that's happened. There was going to be an integrated military operation. It did not raise very much here in the way of catching people's attention. It was devastating in Afghanistan. They took that, with all the conspiracy theories that then wove around it, they took that as the signal that the United States was looking for an exit strategy and in fact had an exit strategy. It's remarkable, and this emphasizes something Bruce had said, how important it is in this region that both Pakistan and Afghanistan know that we have a commitment, that we have stakes in this region. That we cannot continue to be as we were before: a fickle friend of this area. Like so many other regions now, this is an area we can't afford to take for granted.
So I think our panel here today, if we've done nothing else we've perhaps suggested how strong that commitment is, how high the stakes are, and let's hope that our policymakers will take heed.