- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Some wars last six days, others 100 years, but eventually all wars end. The question is how and when.

The outline for how the conflict in Iraq will end is becoming clearer. Whether Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama wins, the United States will have little choice except to continue a draw down of forces and turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqis. That may lead to a more peaceful Iraq, or one that is plagued by instability and violence. But the transfer of responsibility to Iraqis is inevitable.

Afghanistan, however, is a different matter. The latest spike in Taliban violence can be contained as long as the West maintains a substantial military presence in Afghanistan dedicated to that task. Unfortunately, the Afghan National Army, despite President Hamid Karzai’s optimistic statement that he would dispatch his forces into Pakistan if necessary to attack the Taliban, is a work in progress. And the Afghan police force is in no state to carry out its tasks. Meanwhile, civil-sector reforms that will ultimately determine Afghanistan’s future have oscillated between ineffectual and marginal.

Beyond this grim picture inside Afghanistan, all is far from well in NATO over its long-term commitment. Also not well is Pakistan’s future which is irrevocably linked to Afghanistan defeating the insurgency that flourishes along the still-undefined border between the two states. Four NATO states - the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands - and Australia are doing the bulk of the fighting. So-called national caveats reflecting profoundly divergent views of NATO members on the nature of the mission and on the use of force have greatly restricted just who will and can take on this heavy lifting. And the military commitments of Canada, Holland and Australia cannot realistically be expected to last much beyond 2010, a little more than two years hence if private statements made by these governments hold true. At the same time, with the death of Britain’s first female soldier last week, despite Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s promise to President Bush, of Britain’s commitment to Afghanistan, how long British public opinion will tolerate the relatively large deployment of troops to Afghanistan is a perplexing question.

The simple solution and thus the unobtainable one is to double or triple the effort to train Afghans to take on these burdens. However, that effort will likely extend far beyond the political timetable for withdrawal. One conclusion is clear. What is Plan B, or put another way, is it not time to begin thinking about an “exit strategy” for Afghanistan now? When a problem seemed insoluble, Gen. and President Dwight Eisenhower’s advice was to make the problem larger. Using the Eisenhower method, solutions to Afghanistan lie beyond its borders. From there, a second conclusion becomes stunningly obvious. Any solution to the Afghan crisis must involve Pakistan. And any attempt to redress the instabilities and insurgencies threatening Pakistan must involve Afghanistan.

Pakistan faces a real and perceived existential threat. The former is the insurgencies that emanate from the tribal areas in the northwest. The latter is from the northeast and is India. Reconciliation with India, as the late Benazir Bhutto sought in the form of a peace treaty, would clearly enable Pakistan to focus its efforts on the real existential dangers. Thus, what can be done to catalyze this reconciliation is clearly crucial to success in Afghanistan.

Second, other states, such as Russia and China, that might provide political leverage along with Muslim states, such as Turkey and Indonesia, that might actually provide security support could be engaged in an exploratory effort to identify actions that can stabilize Afghanistan. Clearly, such efforts require great delicacy. Russia has not had an entirely happy history in Afghanistan and any Turkish involvement brings with it the specter of European Union membership. In a similar light, if we have time, which I doubt, with a new administration in office in Washington in January, Iran might have a role to play.

Finally, fashioning an exit strategy may require tough love. We may have no choice except threatening an ultimatum or two. For Mr. Karzai it is to enact meaningful civil reforms by putting someone in charge. For Pakistan, it is to recognize that Afghanistan is part of any solution and that a comprehensive strategy including political-economic components and recommendations for how and what other states can contribute must be drafted in days, not weeks.

The United States and Britain are the outside powers with the most at stake in the region. For Britain, it is 800,000 citizens of Pakistani origin. For both, it is future security and safety. It is essential that this special relationship now comes up with a strategy for Afghanistan.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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