Without shift in Afghan strategy, Taliban only winners
August 7th, 2014
12:58 PM ET

Without shift in Afghan strategy, Taliban only winners

By Scott Smith, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Scott Smith is director of Afghanistan and Central Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed are his own.

This week’s attack at an Afghan military academy, which claimed the life of a U.S. general and more than a dozen troops, brought back like a recurring nightmare a problem that seemed for a while to have been solved – so-called green on blue attacks on U.S. and allied forces by disgruntled Afghan soldiers or Taliban infiltrators.

The assailant had reportedly served at the academy for over two years. But regardless of his individual circumstances, it is difficult not to connect this killing with other signs of growing insecurity – a United Nations report citing a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties, a rise in Taliban attacks, and a number of recent political assassinations – to the political wrangling over the presidential election. After all, the election was supposed to produce the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, but has instead turned into a quagmire. This unending dispute is fraying the fragile political coalition that has held Afghanistan together since 2001, while emboldening the enemy and testing the patience of the international community.

Since the U.S. toppled the Taliban in 2001, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to rebuild Afghanistan. A political collapse would eviscerate that investment, hurt the emerging generation of modern Afghans, and raise the question of whether Afghanistan can ever be saved from its political demons. The damage to U.S. prestige would be incalculable. FULL POST

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Topics: Afghanistan
U.S. job far from done in Afghanistan
June 27th, 2014
09:05 AM ET

U.S. job far from done in Afghanistan

By Stephen J. Hadley and Kristin M. Lord, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephen J. Hadley is chairman of the board of the United States Institute of Peace and a former White House National Security Adviser. Kristin Lord is acting president of the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed are their own.

As the United States draws down its forces in Afghanistan and shifts from direct combat to the narrower mission of countering terrorism and training Afghan forces, some might think this is the time to declare “job done” and focus U.S. attention elsewhere. That would be a mistake.  As the current violence in Iraq illustrates, the gains won by our military are fragile. Peace, once won, must be sustained.

Afghanistan is now in the delicate process of laying the foundation for a democratic political transition – the first since President Hamid Karzai assumed the presidency. As many as 7 million Afghans, or around 60 percent of eligible voters, have twice defied the Taliban and cast ballots to select the country’s next president, first in the general election and again in this month’s runoff.


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Topics: Afghanistan • United States
What next for Afghanistan?
June 3rd, 2014
01:32 PM ET

What next for Afghanistan?

“To contain a growing, increasingly confident insurgency as NATO troops withdraw, Afghanistan needs continued international support, including military, and the new government in Kabul will need to reinvigorate the state’s commitment to the rule of law,” the International Crisis Group noted in a report last month.

But how likely is it that Afghanistan will receive the support it needs? And what can we expect next? Graeme Smith, the author of the report and a senior analyst with ICG,  answers readers’ questions.

How much success did NATO forces actually have? Was it more a case of displacing insurgents from one area to another, or was there genuine progress?

NATO can take credit for many successes in Afghanistan. Unfortunately there was also a clear failure to bring security, which threatens every other aspect of the mission. NATO assumed leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003, and by every measure the country is now more dangerous as we approach the expiry of the ISAF mandate on December 31, 2014. That’s not just my personal view after years of living in Afghanistan. It’s a conclusion that cannot be avoided when looking at the number of insurgent attacks, the access of government officials to rural districts, and other security data. Now, security is only a single aspect of a complicated international effort in this country. But the fact remains that security was an eponymous part of the ISAF mission, which remains unfinished. The redeeming factor might be that NATO has helped with the formation of large Afghan security forces, and these local forces still have a fighting chance if they get enough support from donors. FULL POST

Topics: Afghanistan • Reader Q&A
June 3rd, 2014
10:56 AM ET

Abdullah: Corruption poses threat to Afghan stability

Fareed speaks with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah about corruption, ties with Pakistan, and whether his government would talk with the Taliban if he was elected president. Watch the video for the full exchange, or watch the first part of the interview here.

The question many people have about Afghanistan is about the corruption. There’s a sense that it is sort of out of control. We're talking about bagfuls of cash – millions and tens of millions of dollars – all this international aid that has been provided. Do you have any specific idea about how to deal with this, how to tackle it?

The first thing which is necessary is the recognition of the threat which corruption is posing to the stability in the country and to the wellbeing of the Afghan people.

It’s a serious challenge. It will be a serious challenge. And the first thing which is required is the political will. The political will will be there to deal with it, zero tolerance of corruption [at] the highest level. That is something that the people should feel, the people should sense, the people should see it from the first day of our government. And then, of course, there are certain other issues. There are legislative issues in that regard. There is the issue of law enforcement, rule of law.

As a whole, we think that it’s a priority, and it will be a priority for the future government of Afghanistan and it has to be dealt with in outright manner. Corruption is not just the issue of international assistances. Within the system, nepotism and certain other aspects of this, part of it is due to the problem of drugs, narcotics, in the country. Part of it is the absence of rule of law.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Elections • GPS Show
June 3rd, 2014
10:48 AM ET

Abdullah: Bilateral security agreement needs to be signed

Fareed speaks with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah about U.S. troop levels and whether he would sign the bilateral security agreement. Watch the video for the full exchange, or watch the second part of the interview here.

Let me ask you first the question that I think many Americans are wondering about, which is will you sign the agreement that will have American troops stay on in Afghanistan in some number, for training and such? As you know, President Karzai has been unwilling to sign the agreement that would allow American troops to stay.

Of course. My position in regards to the bilateral security agreement with the United States has been that we need continued support, in military and security terms, from the United States and the international community. And that's the framework – a bilateral security agreement, or BSA, is the framework for that, for the continuation of military security cooperation in assessing the Afghan security forces and training of the Afghan security forces, as well as dealing with the threats which are around.

So my position in regards to the BSA has been positive. And it has to be signed. And it will be one of the priorities of the future government of Afghanistan.

Do you have a view as to how many American troops should remain? As you know, there's a big debate within the United States. Some people want it to be as low as 5,000 or even lower. Some say, no, you need about 20,000. Do you have a number?

I don't have a number. That's a technical, military question. But at the same time, the aim or the mission as [it’s] defined, it requires a few thousand...the presence of a few thousand American troops, not as a minimum such as 3,000 to 5,000 American troops, but certainly more than that. But I am not in any position to give you a number.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Elections • GPS Show
June 1st, 2014
07:43 AM ET

Why there might be cause for optimism in Afghanistan

For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

As U.S. troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghans are preparing to usher in their own new era. Soon, the nation could witness its first ever democratic handover of power. So, what if we told you that Afghanistan seems poised to effectively navigate this transition? In other words, what if we told you that Afghanistan could actually work out?

Almost two months ago, Afghans headed to the polls in record numbers. The election went remarkably well. Afghan security forces performed better than anyone expected. There were few reports of ballot stuffing or corruption that had marred the 2009 election of Hamid Karzai.

Since no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a run-off in June. And two front-runners have emerged. Guess what? They're both great – highly qualified, modern, reformist and articulate.

Compare them to the hardline Shiite thugs running Iraq and you will see a world of difference. Abdullah Abdullah, a former leader in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a trained ophthalmologist, secured 45 percent of the vote. Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist, garnered nearly 32 percent of the vote. Honestly, either would mark a significant improvement for the future of Afghanistan and for Afghan-U.S. relations.


Can Afghanistan contain insurgency?
May 16th, 2014
12:27 PM ET

Can Afghanistan contain insurgency?

“To contain a growing, increasingly confident insurgency as NATO troops withdraw, Afghanistan needs continued international support, including military, and the new government in Kabul will need to reinvigorate the state’s commitment to the rule of law,” the International Crisis Group writes in a report released this week.

But how likely is it that Afghanistan will receive the support it needs? And what are the next government’s chances of success? Graeme Smith, the author of the report and a senior analyst with ICG, will be answering readers’ questions on the future of Afghanistan.

Please leave your questions in the comments section below.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Reader Q&A
How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties
March 7th, 2014
06:03 PM ET

How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is a senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Pakistan’s military is set to launch a major military operation in North Waziristan, AP reported this week, after weeks of hesitation over its strategy of negotiating with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Yet although the expected operation follows the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers last month by a Taliban faction, it seems likely to have been motivated by something more than a desire to retaliate and coerce the TTP into talks.

Whatever the motivation, it will have a significant impact on the country’s relationship with its weaker neighbor: Afghanistan.

In early 2012, Pakistan’s Foreign Office publicly declared a “strategic shift” in its thinking on Afghanistan, and began promoting its own version of an inclusive reconciliation process, as well as actively reaching out to elements of the Northern Alliance. Islamabad adopted this new policy after concluding that its strategy of supporting the Taliban alone was unlikely to produce a “friendly” Afghanistan (in other words, one under close Pakistani influence) because the Taliban is, for now at least, simply not capable of taking the reins of power on its own.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Pakistan • Taliban
History not repeating itself in Afghanistan
February 19th, 2014
05:45 PM ET

History not repeating itself in Afghanistan

By Javid Ahmad and Ahmad K. Majidyar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Javid Ahmad is a program coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Ahmad K. Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are their own.

Twenty five years ago this month, the last Soviet soldier marched out of Afghanistan, bringing an end to a nine year occupation that cost the lives of 15,000 Soviet troops and more than a million Afghans. With the close of the Cold War, the West lost interest in the region and Afghanistan became a proxy battlefield for subversive regional power play. Infighting between competing Afghan mujahedeen factions brought anarchy, paving the way for the Taliban and al Qaeda. And now, as the drawdown of international forces approaches, there’s growing fear that history might repeat itself.

It doesn’t have to work out the same way.

For a start, while the political system in Afghanistan is far from perfect, it enjoys far greater support and legitimacy among the Afghan people than the communist regime did in the 1980s. While Afghan presidents back then were effectively appointed by the Kremlin, Afghans today have elected their own leader – and will head to the polls in April to pick a successor to Hamid Karzai. And despite growing pessimism in the West about Afghanistan, Afghans generally remain optimistic about their future: an Asia Foundation survey last year found that a majority of Afghans (57 percent) believed their country was moving in the right direction.


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Topics: Afghanistan • Asia
February 10th, 2014
10:34 AM ET

Behind Karzai's outbursts

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

The U.S. has tired of its longest war, debating only the size of the small force it will leave behind, mostly for training purposes. The Taliban continues to have many strongholds in significant parts of the country. And Pakistan continues to support the Taliban from across the border-support that is likely to expand as America withdraws and Islamabad seeks to fill that power vacuum.

So Karzai might be playing an erratic game of brinkmanship in his negotiations with Washington, but he might also be trying to navigate a post-American Afghanistan. While American troops might well remain and some American aid will continue, Afghanistan is going to look very different in 2015 than it does today.​

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Topics: Afghanistan • Fareed's Take • GPS Show
February 6th, 2014
07:45 AM ET

Karzai's not-so-crazy end game

By Fareed Zakaria

Is Hamid Karzai crazy? on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things. Over the past year, he has criticized the U.S., wondered whether its presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghanistan-U.S. security pact and called members of the Taliban his brothers. This week the New York Times revealed that he has been conducting secret negotiations with the Taliban. What can he be thinking?

Maybe Karzai is looking at what happened to one of his predecessors. In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. The President it had backed, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed in power, but within months a civil war broke out, forcing him to seek refuge in a U.N. compound. In 1996 the Taliban rode into Kabul, captured Najibullah, denounced him as a foreign puppet, castrated him, dragged his body through the streets and then hung him from a traffic barricade. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.

That year was a gruesome replay of an earlier piece of Afghan history that Karzai also knows well.

Read the TIME column

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Topics: Afghanistan • Time
Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders
December 27th, 2013
07:45 AM ET

Afghanistan in 2014: Importance to stretch well past borders

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are his own. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

As the U.S. exit from Afghanistan nears, we can expect to hear steadily more about the lessons we should have learned since international intervention in the country back in 2001. But one dimension of the Afghan effort that might get overlooked next year is this: how has the Afghan conflict impacted transatlantic solidarity?

The short answer is that transatlantic relations may well be another long-term victim of the war in Afghanistan.

The Afghan operation started as a spectacular demonstration of the solidity of the transatlantic alliance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when NATO activated Article V of its collective defense clause for the first time in its history. But the limits of cooperation were quickly demonstrated, eroding the foundations of transatlantic solidarity. Whether they can be fully restored remains to be seen.

Afghanistan has been a story of frustration on both sides of the Atlantic. One of the early disagreements was over the relative importance of military operations versus a broader political approach – while the United States tended to focus on the former, European states emphasized the latter. The resources that each side was capable and willing to engage in Afghanistan played a role in this initial difference, but this doesn’t explain everything. Europeans had a genuine problem with the U.S. approach, which, over the years, kept focusing on security at the expense of politics and a sustained effort at national cohesion. As a result, all Afghan political institutions were created in a way that reflected Washington’s desire for expediency rather than a need to ensure the political system’s sustainability.

Torn between their willingness to demonstrate solidarity with Washington after 9/11 and their perception that the goals of the mission, as defined by Washington, were unachievable, many European countries limited their investment to the minimum and sought instead to bring their troops home. Others, in particular the closest American allies, decided to stick to U.S. strategy even when they knew it was bound to fail. These allies paid a heavy human, financial and political price, but seemed to take some absurd comfort in the fact that the failure would be a collective responsibility.

In parallel, the temptation in Washington to blame the Europeans for the coalition failures in Afghanistan grew as it became increasingly clear that, despite the official rhetoric, the United States had achieved none of its objectives. If al Qaeda has been weakened, none of its local affiliates has been eradicated and its reemergence remains a possibility in 2014 and beyond – the reality is that the Afghan state that is emerging from the reconstruction effort is in no position to prevent this happening on its own once U.S. forces have withdrawn next year.

Ironically the impending exit from Afghanistan has only exacerbated ill feelings on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of the principle “in together, out together,” Washington decided unilaterally to withdraw, but felt let down when some of its partners decided to anticipate its own departure.

The consequences of this mutual frustration are unlikely to be spectacular. European states are too dependent on the United States for their own security to snub Washington. Nor is Afghanistan the sole reason for Washington’s diminishing commitment to European security. With the existential threat of the Soviet Union long gone and given European governments’ dwindling capacity to contribute to collective security, the continent no longer constitutes a strategic concern for Washington. At the same time, the war-weary and fiscally-stressed United States is increasingly reluctant to commit to foreign military adventures. These two phenomena, neither of which is directly or exclusively related to Afghanistan, are pulling the two sides of the Atlantic apart.

Future conflicts may not exactly look like Afghanistan, but there is a good chance they will share some of its characteristics, in particular the primacy of politics and the relatively secondary character of military force. In Afghanistan, most U.S. allies concurred with the perception that the conflict could not be solved kinetically. However, for a variety of reasons, they never really stood against that dominant U.S. paradigm. Instead, they let themselves become part of a succession of U.S. military strategies that all proved short lived.

The result of all this is a collective failure that from next year will very likely translate into a loss of credibility not just for the U.S., but for the entire Western alliance.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Afghanistan
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