Security Studies Program Seminar

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Surviving the Next 12 Months

Nathaniel Fick
Center for New American Security

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We are losing in Afghanistan

The Obama administration has had to make Afghanistan its war to drawdown in Iraq for security and political reasons


This year is an opportunity to move in a different direction. 

Why should we care about what is going on in Afghanistan?  Administration has narrowed American interests to:

When you talk to the Pakistanis, they take one of three approaches:

  1. This is all your fault – American policies since the Soviet war have destabilized Pakistan
  2. We’ll say whatever you want to hear – you need us more than we need you
  3. Poor little us – if you give us more, then we can win (ex: technology transfer)

Objectives in 2001 were clear cut.  After Bonn, there was an expansion of objectives.  We have seen a further reigning in of objectives.  We now just want a state that can provide its own security.   We need to train the Afghan national army and more importantly police.  Police is the most frequent interaction that Afghans have with their government and when the police turn predatory, they undermine the government.

Need a single strategy that is comprehensive, integrated, and sequenced


Questions to work on for policy-makers

We need to do a holding action – need to hold the Taliban to certain areas until we can get basic services and governance going again.  National solidarity program is a village based bottom up development program that seems to be quite successful.  But need basic security to do it.  In the longer term need to buy time to build capacity in Afghan security forces.

What is it going to take to sustain a force the size we are trying to create?  The immediate concern is the financial cost.  The cost is greater than the entire government revenue.  It will become a ward of the international community indefinitely if it can’t increase revenue.  That may be the price we decide we are willing to pay. 

Afghanistan has never had a separatist movement.  There is some sense of being an Afghan.  Pakistan has had many. 

Only way to combat the dangers of a well equipped force is an accountable civilian government. 

Need to use our allies --- rather than berating allies for not bearing combat burden.  Why not allow US forces do the forces and have the allies do other things.  Need to get them in the ministries to increase transparency and accountability to avoid the cooption of the security forces.

There was a time when broader reconciliation process for groups made sense.  You don’t want to put your adversary in a corner so their only way out is to fight.  The Accidental Guerilla talks about how some people join because its “exciting” – you can provide them a better alternative.  But, now, the prospects for negotiations have waned as we have lost leverage.  We have to be able to provide the alternative avenue, but now is not the time for a large emphasis on reconciliation because we would be negotiating from a position of weakness. 

Need to project our commitment to the mission.  Not making a long-term commitment can sometimes make success less likely.  Social science literature shows that people put their confidence in the group they think they will win.  So, need to make a long-term commitment so they pick us, the side with more staying power. 

Similar recommendations for Iraq and Afghanistan but very different situations?  How are the end states different?  I am more pessimistic on Iraq than the mean.  Ambassador Crocker says about the surge that the events for which the war will be remembered haven’t happened yet. He thinks things are going to come undone.

Iraq is more caught up in the problems of the greater Middle East.  It is more intertwined with its neighbors in a way that complicates our policies.  Afghan sense of nation-hood simplifies things a little bit.  Their expectations are also lower. 

The plan outlined in the Times today focuses on the poppy rather than the people.  Need the people to take care of the Taliban and the poppy.  Also, not clear that poppy is the majority of the Taliban funding.  So, I hope that the Times is wrong about the new plan in Afghanistan.  Income from the Gulf remittances is greater than the poppies.  Also, it doesn’t take a lot of money to sustain a very effective insurgency. 

Karzai had an opportunity --- his window has now shut and he should go gracefully out of office.

The administration is thinking about metrics.  They don’t agree with me on drone strikes in Pakistan. The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan are coming to the US with their Agriculture ministers which suggests a change in priority.

Interdiction along the border won’t work because we can’t do it with a reasonable force size.  If we did that we would be killing a lot of non-Taliban elements across the border that would hurt the population support for the coalition.  When the people feel safe, the people coming across the border stand out and the people speak up.

Rapporteur: Miranda Priebe

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2009