Steve Coll, president of the New America Foundation, is one of several people whose testimony on Afghanistan the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has heard in recent weeks, but his is the testimony I found most worth reading. He’s proposing solutions, not just pointing out difficulties. His focus is on the effect our strategy in Afghanistan will have on the thinking of the Pakistani security apparatus, and how their policies will in turn effect Afghanistan. An excerpt:
If the United States undertakes a heavily militarized, increasingly unilateral policy in Afghanistan, whether in the name of “counterinsurgency,” “counterterrorism,” or some other abstract Western doctrine, without also adopting an aggressive political, reconciliation and diplomatic strategy that more effectively incorporates Pakistan into efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, then it will also reinforce the beliefs of those in the Pakistani security establishment that they need the Taliban as a hedge against the U.S. and India.
The whole thing is fairly short and you can read it here. Unfortunately, Coll doesn’t address my other major question about the way our commitment to Afghanistan motivates political choices by local actors. If a credible long-term commitment makes Pakistan more likely to behave in constructive fashion, doesn’t the same commitment take the pressure off Karzai to deliver on his promises of reform, etc.? Matthew Yglesias makes that argument here; Spencer Ackerman took a stab at solving this problem by suggesting that we make robust commitments to Pakistan, but conditional commitments to Afghanistan–the idea being that Karzai will be more likely to govern well with the threat of American withdrawal hanging over his head. But Coll seems to say that our credibility in Pakistan’s eyes depends on our stake in Afghanistan’s future. So where does that leave us?