A new report calls on U.S. President Donald Trump to commit to engagement in Afghanistan, promote its sovereignty, and work toward an eventual resolution of the nearly 40-year war in the country.
The report, called Focused Engagement: A New Way Forward For Afghanistan, underlines compelling reasons for Washington’s commitment.
“[Afghanistan] remains attractive as a safe haven for international terrorist groups that would like protected space to plot attacks against America and its allies,” noted the report, released this week by Center For A New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “The country is surrounded by nuclear powers that do not get along. State collapse could bring even worse than a Taliban return to power.”
The report’s author, Christopher Kolenda, a former Pentagon senior adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is seeking immediate steps for stabilizing the Afghan battlefield, where the Taliban insurgents have made significant gains since the 2014 withdrawal of most NATO forces.
“Stabilize the battlefield by improving U.S.-Afghan strategic alignment, enforcing conditionality for political and security sector reform, and supporting an enduring commitment,” he wrote.
Kolenda argues Afghanistan cannot be stabilized unless the Trump administration promotes Afghan sovereignty by reducing the currently destabilizing regional competition and penalizing countries that help the Taliban and other militant groups.
He identifies Pakistan as the main Taliban sanctuary where the insurgents are supplied from, train their fighters, and plan and coordinate operations.
“Graduated penalties will raise the price to Pakistan and others of supporting militant groups,” he wrote. “A support agreement with Pakistan based on a peaceful outcome should encourage results and avoid rewarding duplicity.”
In the wake of a new wave of terror attacks in Pakistan, Islamabad has blamed Pakistani militants hiding in Afghanistan for the violence. But in a response to Islamabad’s list of 76 “most wanted” terrorists, Kabul sent its list of 85 senior members of the Taliban whom Afghan authorities believe to be hiding in Pakistan.
Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the longest war in its history, Washington has so far failed to convince Kabul and Islamabad to embark on sustainable result-oriented antiterrorism cooperation.
Kolenda recommends that to end the nearly four decades of war in Afghanistan, Washington needs to advance a peace process.
“The Trump administration must avoid a rush to failure,” he concluded. “A peace process may require more than a decade to produce a general ceasefire and a series of conflict-ending negotiations.”