In the Arena

Afghanistan Exit: 2014

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Les Gelb jumps the gun on the mid-November NATO summit by reporting that the allies will set 2014 as the real end date for the Afghanistan war effort. This conforms to Hamid Karzai’s stated deadline, which few took seriously when he announced it last July. More important, it conforms to the U.S. political schedule–Obama won’t be accused of bugging out of Afghanistan–and it gives General David Petraeus plenty of time to try to establish some sort of public security in the Pashtun lands (or, conversely, plenty of time to continue pulverizing the Taliban silly enough to remain on the Afghan side of the border). Of course, it’s hard to see how the essential Afghan problems will be “solved” by then:

First, what will be accomplished by “defeating” the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan when terrorists bases now dot the global landscape?… Second, what effect will winning or losing in Afghanistan have on Pakistan? Washington insists that Pakistan’s fate hinges on the outcome in Afghanistan, but if that’s so, why do the Pakistanis continue to provide the Taliban with sanctuary and arms even as they urge us to fight on in Afghanistan?

The answer to the second question is that Pakistanis see Afghanistan in a completely different light: If their proxies, the Taliban, are defeated, then their enemies, the Indians, will have renewed opportunities to use Afghanistan to surround Pakistan. Which raises a third question: What does Pakistan really want? And a fourth question: What do we really want?

The answers are: Pakistan wants an India-free Afghanistan. We want a stable, civilian-led Pakistan (with no threat of an Islamist Army coup). There is a bit of overlap there: stability–a restult that, I suspect, is most likely if there are successful negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban for a power-sharing agreement. If an agreement is reached, we may see the end of major combat operations well before 2014. I am not holding my breath, though,