September 16, 2011
Summary of the town hall "Exit or Exodus: Implications of the Drawdown for Afghanistan and Pakistan" at the 2011 Annual Members' Conference.

Participants

Marc Grossman, United States Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, United States Department of State
Moderated by Barbara Slavin, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council South Asia Center

This session focused on U.S. and NATO strategy in Afghanistan and implications of the drawdown from Afghanistan on neighboring Pakistan.

Two upcoming conferences will be of importance to a successful withdrawal in Afghanistan. The first conference, in Istanbul, on November 2nd, will focus on the regional strategy – necessary for a stable Afghanistan. At this even, Turkey, Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors will be invited to discuss how the region can support the country. There are two targeted deliverables for this conference:

  • A declaration by neighbors, which will consist of assurances and guarantees from neighbors and near neighbors to Afghanistan, such as a commitment to cooperation and non-interference.
  • The second deliverable will be the attempt to create a regional content group for Afghanistan.
  • The objective of the above goals is to let the region speak for itself.

On December 5th, a larger meeting will be held in Bonn, Germany. At this meeting three areas will be the focus:

  1. Welcoming of the Declaration of Istanbul
  2. Injecting a concept of economic integration into the goals, which would promote job growth, interaction among neighbors, and help with reconciliation.
  3. Promotion of economic growth in Afghanistan, including the exploration of reinvesting savings from the drawdown back into the economy.

Other topics will also be discussed, such as transition and reconciliation.

Reconciliation is another important aspect of the political strategy in Afghanistan. How do you get Afghans to talk among themselves? The US may have to reach out to the Taliban – must get them involved in reconciliation. This may also frame it for the insurgents so as to show that they are not winning.

On the topic of rumored political offices for the Taliban, it was stated that that concept is premature, but over there will be need to establish places for them to go – primarily so they are not under the weight of Pakistan.

In regards to Iran, there are no economic carrots for them, but Iran does have other interests in Afghanistan. The US has attempted to offer conversation, but Iran cannot seem to decide whether it wants to take the offer. Iran has participated in meetings with SRAPs from other countries – they are always represented. However, despite attempts by the US to reach out, Iran does not indicate a willingness to talk.

Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, has really big choices to make. The USG has been trying to make the argument to them that the biggest threats to Pakistan are internal extremism threats and their economy. Since 2003, 19,000 civilians have been killed by terrorist attacks in Pakistan, and 3500 military personnel. One has to ask what the debate is like, given these statistics, where they can rationalize supporting some terrorists and hating others. The Pakistanis also simultaneously show support for Kabul and provide safe havens for terrorist groups. The Pakistanis need to give up the idea that an unstable Afghanistan is good for them, but they are not there yet. For the US, it is important that they and the Pakistanis find shared interests that they can act on jointly.