Weekly Insights and Analysis

Pakistan, Afghanistan & NATO: A New Compact

April 23, 2008

By Karl F. Inderfurth

Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked. There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan, if Pakistan is not a part of the solution. The future stability of both depends on developing an effective regional strategy to counter and uproot the Taliban/Al Qaeda sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal border areas. Despite Pakistan’s counterinsurgency efforts over the last four years (or lack thereof, according to critics), the Taliban and Al Qaeda have developed a stronghold in this region that bolsters the Taliban’s capabilities against coalition forces in Afghanistan, poses a direct threat to the Pakistani state itself, and facilitates Al Qaeda planning and execution of global terrorist plots, including those directed against the United States.

Immediate priorities include using the Trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-NATO Military Commission to counter cross border infiltration, and strengthening the US military presence along the Afghan side of the border. Washington also needs to work more closely with Pakistan in joint counterterrorism operations. The possibility for collaboration exists, but operations are highly sensitive and politically charged in the tribal areas and must be pursued through quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts with Pakistani political and military leaders.

In addition, attention must be focused on Pakistan’s so-called tribal areas along the border. As Pakistan’s ambassador, Mahmud Duranni, says, what is needed in these areas is a “multi-pronged strategy. That is, military force, development and empowerment of the people. Using force alone is not the answer.” An effective strategy will involve working cooperatively with Pakistan’s new leadership to integrate tribal areas into the Pakistani political system and, once they are secure, providing substantial assistance (along with the European Union, the World Bank and other donors) to build up their economy and social infrastructure.

Over the longer term, the region requires a new compact that addresses Afghanistan and Pakistan’s political, economic, and security concerns and seeks to neutralize regional and great power rivalries. To accomplish this the United Nations should convene a high-level international conference attended by all Afghanistan’s neighbors and other concerned major powers, a task that should be added to the agenda of the newly appointed high level UN envoy for Afghanistan, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide.

The goal would be a multilateral accord that recognizes Afghanistan’s borders with Pakistan (the Durand Line of 1893 is still in dispute); pledges non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs; affirms that, like the Congress of Vienna accord for Switzerland, Afghanistan should be internationally accepted as a permanently neutral state; and establishes a comprehensive international regime to remove obstacles to the flow of trade across Afghanistan, the key to establishing a vibrant commercial network that would benefit the entire region.

Such an agreement would have another positive corollary – it would provide the basis for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO military forces from a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Ambassador Karl F. Inderfurth, a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, served as US assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001. He is a Trustee of The Asia Foundation. The above is an excerpt from an op-ed he wrote at the time of the NATO summit in Bucharest (click here to view). Views expressed by individuals are their own and not endorsed by The Asia Foundation.


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