Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

The missile shield and the “grand bargain” on Afghanistan and Pakistan


Back in 2008, even before Barack Obama was elected, Washington pundits were urging him to adopt a new regional approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan involving Russia, India, China, Saudi Arabia and even Iran. The basic argument was that more troops alone would not solve the problems, and that the new U.S administration needed to subsume other foreign policy goals to the interests of winning a regional consensus on stabilising Afghanistan.

It would be simplistic to suggest that the Obama administration’s decision to cancel plans to build a missile-shield in eastern Europe was motivated purely — or even primarily — by a need to seek Russian help in Afghanistan. But it certainly serves as a powerful reminder about how far that need to seek a “grand bargain” on Afghanistan may be reshaping and influencing policy decisions around the world.

“Securing Afghanistan and its region will require an international presence for many years, but only a regional diplomatic initiative that creates a consensus to place stabilizing Afghanistan ahead of other objectives could make a long-term international deployment possible,” Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid argued in their much-cited 2008 policy paper titled “From Great Game to Grand Bargain”. (pdf document).

Many of those arguments reappeared in a more recent report by the Asia Society (pdf document) — formerly chaired by U.S special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke – so they are worth studying closely.