President, The Brookings Institution
- Since the initial U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has sought to prevent un- and under-governed spaces in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region from serving as platforms for international terrorism. However, the focus of U.S. policy in Afghanistan has evolved from, initially, preventing al-Qaida from planning and executing a near-term, mass-casualty attack on the U.S. homeland to, currently, preventing the Afghan Taliban from undermining the capacity and legitimacy of the Afghan government.
- The Afghan Taliban is at its strongest point since 2001, and has derived capacity and resilience from claiming the mantle of Pashtun nationalism, enjoying safe haven in Pakistan, and outperforming the Afghan government and government-aligned power centers in the suppression of predatory crime and provision of other public goods.
- A continued U.S. and coalition troop presence in Afghanistan should focus on stabilizing the security environment, alongside critical, complementary efforts to tackle corruption, ethnic and tribal discrimination, and drug trafficking. However, recognizing Afghanistan’s current governance capacity, the realistic ambition of U.S. and partner assistance should be for Afghanistan to achieve standards of governance and economic performance on par with similarly situated countries in South and Central Asia.
- The United States should intensify pressure on Pakistan to shift its calculus regarding support for the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.
- The United States should seek opportunities for greater coordination with other interested countries beyond the ISAF coalition—such as the Gulf countries, China, and India—that could bear a greater burden in supporting the Afghan government.
- Successive U.S. administrations have struggled to articulate the basis for evolving U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan, and for sustaining a U.S. military presence there. The administration should seek to distinguish its strategy from those pursued by the previous two administrations, and remind the American public that an ongoing partnership with the Afghan government has served U.S. security interests by providing a hub for critical counterterrorism-related intelligence collection and special operations.
Emerging Voices Network Reception with Gareth Bayley, U.K. Special Representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan
The ceasefire shows yet again the leverage the Taliban now has thanks to its recent attacks. What’s most interesting is that the ceasefire doesn’t apply to the Islamic State. Whereas the Taliban have primarily attacked security forces, the Islamic State’s violence has much been much less selective, and has killed far more civilians. The Taliban’s strategy appears to have paid off— there’s popular support for a ceasefire with the Taliban, but not for one with the Islamic State.
The attack on the interior ministry is just the latest in a long string of brazen and high profile attacks in Kabul this year. This winter the Taliban carried out an ambulance bombing that killed over 100, while the Islamic State killed over ten soldiers in an attack on an Afghan army base. Afghan security forces have long struggled with how to defeat the Taliban alone. Now that the Taliban are competing with the Islamic State for resources and recruits, the challenge has grown even more daunting—the two groups are now locked in a race to see who can launch bigger and more devastating attacks.