Strategic patience needed in Af-Pak stand-off


Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary met China’s special envoy on Afghan affairs on Monday, a foreign office spokesman said, a day after Islamabad canceled a scheduled visit by a top U.S. official, Reuters reports:

The decision by Pakistan to postpone the visit of Alice Wells, acting assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, came a week after President Donald Trump said Islamabad was prolonging the war in Afghanistan. Trump had accused Pakistan of harboring “agents of chaos” and providing safe havens for militant groups waging an insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

The United States has leverage over Pakistan it has not yet used, including cutting off assistance, said Zalmay Khalilzad, the former ambassador to Afghanistan.

“We have the leverage of putting those individuals, as we do it in the case of … Russia — or we do it in the case of Iran, to put individuals who support groups such as the Taliban, terrorist groups like Haqqani, on a blacklist,” he said.

Pakistan offers “a sanctuary for those who fight us and in exchange, receives a lot of assistance,” Khalilzad (right) – a National Endowment for Democracy board member – said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The new U.S. strategy suggests a departure from the approach adopted by the U.S. and its allies since 2001, in which enormous effort has been committed to helping Afghanistan establish a civil society, notes one observer.

Ultimately, the goal, it seems, is for a core of Afghan elites to begin acting in the public interest, rather than for private gain, and to empower Kabul so that the Taliban will come to the table for reconciliation talks that might bring Afghanistan’s long civil war to an end, says one expert.

Based on my research into power transitions and international intervention, such elites can emerge in different ways, notes Sten Rynning, Professor of International Security and War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark:

One path is to build up liberal democratic institutions and encourage civil society to grow and propel accountable leaders to the top. This was the international community’s strategy in Afghanistan since day one, and the outcome has been disappointing.

The international community has paid insufficient attention to another path, state-building, which is not incompatible with liberal institutionalism (if executed with patience and diplomatic skill). Elite power-sharing followed by investment in security ministries could work in Afghanistan.


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