Tighten your seat belts! South Asia, along with much of the rest of the world, should get ready for a more muscular, business-like, and unorthodox foreign policy under US President Donald Trump. His team of security and foreign policy experts, many of whom have unorthodox backgrounds and credentials, will help him implement a more personalized and business-like foreign relations regime. Trump has wasted no time in seizing the opportunity to reshape US foreign policy to better define and align it with US interests as he sees them.

Other than his self-created crisis in dealing with refugees and immigrants from the Musllim World, two areas will demand Trump’s immediate attention: the war in Afghanistan and foreign aid.

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Commitments at Warsaw and Brussels would send a clear signal to the Taliban, said official

NATO’s Warsaw summit in July and a European Union conference in Brussels in October must provide clear commitments to Afghanistan in order to boost the prospects of peace in that country, a senior Obama administration official said at the Atlantic Council on June 21.

Asserting a US commitment to an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, Richard Olson, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said: “The Taliban’s leadership, with its refusal to come to the negotiating table, has apparently reached a different conclusion. Perhaps they believe victory through violence in achievable; perhaps they remain unconvinced of the sincerity of the invitation to negotiate.”

“The Taliban are mistaken if they think they can wait for us to withdraw our support believing that the Afghan forces will somehow become vulnerable to defeat as the international community disengages,” he said. “This is why the commitments at Warsaw, including the funding through 2020, are so important. That is the only way to demonstrate that the commitment is going to be lasting and that if the Taliban seek to have a role in Afghanistan it will have to be through negotiations.”

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Drone strike should send a signal that the United States will not tolerate terrorist safe havens, said Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

The US drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in Pakistan over the weekend should send a clear signal that the United States will no longer tolerate terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham.

“I hope that this is the beginning of a message that we will not tolerate any more the strategic challenge that is posed by the leadership of the Taliban being in Pakistan and having a safe haven there,” Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said in an interview.

“To really get to a peace discussion [in Afghanistan], the Taliban have to come to the conclusion that the option of military force and terror will not get them back to the establishment of the emirate, which is what they want,” he said. “In order for that to happen, the status quo needs to be disrupted and that means we need to find a way to impact the safe havens in Pakistan."

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The “integration of civil-military forces” and “sustainable economic development” are critical to the success of state-building efforts, Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations, said at the Atlantic Council on April 20.

“There was a clear road map for political transition [in Afghanistan], but we never knew what the final institutions would look like,” said Khalilzad, who is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors.

In Afghanistan, differences between former electoral rivals—President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—have made it hard to confirm the appointments of officials, including Cabinet Ministers.

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Deadly suicide bombing in Kabul points to need for Pakistan to end support for terrorists, says Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

A deadly suicide bombing in Kabul shows that the Taliban are determined to drag out the conflict, but it also adds a sense of urgency for Pakistan to end its support for the militants, said the Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham.

“While it is good to see that there has been a broad range of international condemnation of the attack, including by the UN Security Council, it also shows the urgency for Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, to take concrete steps to bring this conflict to an end,” said Cunningham, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and current Khalilzad Chair on Afghanistan and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“At some point we will have to collectively act on the reality that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring the conflict to a political solution as long as the Taliban continue to be able to operate, plan, and move on Pakistani territory,” he added.

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Interview with Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations

Zalmay Khalilzad served as the US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United Nations in the George W. Bush administration. A member of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors, Khalilzad has recently authored an insightful and widely praised memoir—The Envoy. In a wide-ranging interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen, he discussed the lessons learned from the US experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, prospects for peace with the Taliban, and US diplomacy in a post-Iran nuclear deal Middle East, among other issues. Here are excerpts from our interview.

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Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, delivered a spirited defense of her husband’s administration on March 31 and warned that “repeated half truths take a life of their own…and suddenly become conventional wisdom.”

Speaking at the Atlantic Council, Ghani described and disputed numerous “myths” about Afghanistan that she said exist in the West, particularly in the Western media.

Journalists, in their rush to deliver a breaking story, hardly have time to check their facts, she said. She took particular issue with a recent Washington Post article that cited what the reporter identified as former members of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s administration expressing their discontent with the government in Kabul.

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Amid concerning reports of security and political struggles that threaten to unravel the progress made thus far in Afghanistan, the question arises: what is to be done?  

The answer, at once simple and difficult, is to help the Afghans prevail. We, Americans, our international partners in Afghanistan, and the Afghans themselves have too much at stake.  We deserve a strategy that is geared toward success and commensurate with what is at risk. Fatigue is more than understandable, but is not the basis for good policy that protects our interests.

US and international engagement in Afghanistan should be seen in the context of the distorted and violent Islamic ideology—now manifest from Asia to Africa—that threatens our citizens, our values, and our way of life. Substantial bipartisan agreement exists among an array of senior figures and policy experts on the case for sustained US commitment to Afghanistan. It is to be hoped that such bipartisan support will extend to the presidential campaigns as well, and that our next President will not have an Afghanistan crisis on his or her desk upon entering the Oval Office.

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Afghanistan’s neighbors must realize that a stable Afghanistan will benefit the entire region, says Afghan President’s top adviser

A stable Afghanistan is vital for regional prosperity because gas pipelines, power grids, and road and rail networks can be constructed providing economical and much-needed energy and market access to the neighborhood, a top Afghan official said on January 12.

“Afghanistan’s stability has a tremendous positive impact on the economic vibrancy of Pakistan, and the same is true for Iran and our other neighbors as well,” Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, chief adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on infrastructure, human capital, and technology, said in an interview.

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Answer lies in Pakistan’s willingness to end support for militants, says Atlantic Council’s James B. Cunningham

Representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States are meeting in Islamabad this week to draw up a roadmap for peace talks with the Taliban.

James B. Cunningham, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and current Khalilzad Chair on Afghanistan and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, discussed the prospects of peace in an interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from our interview.

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