The Afghan “exit strategy” appears to be fraying badly before it has even had time to get properly underway. With many fearing civil war after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014, it was always going to be hard to weave together the different elements needed to offer a hope of peace. Among those elements was a concerted international strategy to show outside powers were not going to abandon Afghanistan by promising generous funding after foreign troops leave; some kind of regional detente, and sufficient momentum behind talks with Taliban insurgents to shape the conditions for a dignified withdrawal.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
One of Pakistan’s most bizarre political dramas appears to be running out of steam. What began as an unsigned memo seeking American help to rein in the military escalated into a full-blown power struggle between the civilian government and the army after Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz accused then ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani of writing it. Haqqani, who denied involvement, resigned and returned to Pakistan to clear his name. But that did nothing to stem a crisis in civilian-military relations which carried uncomfortable echoes of the 1990s when government after government were dismissed in a decade which ended in a coup in 1999.
When Pakistan’s Express Tribune wrote this week that the CIA was likely to resume drone strikes for the first time since November, it included a quote from an unnamed Pakistani official saying that Pakistani authorities believed drones were “strategically harmful but tactically advantageous”. I tweeted the link and asked who would explain to the Pakistani public that the drone strikes – which have fuelled intense anti-Americanism – were seen even in their own country as “tactically advantageous”.
It is the season for “progress” on Taliban talks. In January 2010, the London conference on Afghanistan put the idea of negotiating with the Taliban firmly on the international agenda. In February 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a major policy speech, insisted it was time the United States began to talk to its enemies. Her speech was accompanied by a leaked report that Washington was in fact already holding direct talks with the Taliban to try to convince them to join a political settlement and sever ties with al Qaeda. And now we have the Taliban agreeing to open a liaison office in Qatar to help speed along the talks process as Washington prepares to withdraw most combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.