Would making a deal with Pakistan speed up the Afghan War Clock?
I have a few more musings on the "readjusting the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don’t have specifics, but I can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box ...
I have a few more musings on the "readjusting the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don't have specifics, but I can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box things to think about. In the spirit of stimulating the strategic policy planners who have better access to the information necessary to do this exercise right, here are some considerations.
I have a few more musings on the "readjusting the war clocks" issue, specifically the question of accelerating the Afghan battle clock by getting more help from Pakistan. What might the outlines of a deal with Pakistan look like? I don’t have specifics, but I can think of some design features and suggest some out-of-the-box things to think about. In the spirit of stimulating the strategic policy planners who have better access to the information necessary to do this exercise right, here are some considerations.
General Design Features
The absolutely essential element is explicit quid pro quo. It is fine for us to offer intangible, mood-setting quids, but their quo better be tangible and clearly spelled out in advance. The entire deal would not have to be public; indeed perhaps some elements would have to stay confidential. But the deal would have to be worth it to risk the inevitable leaks and set-backs and it is only worth it if Pakistan delivers concrete action.
The United States would also have to be willing to step back from the deal if the other players are not doing their part. This is harder to do than it sounds because, once established, every "deal" develops political inertia and American leaders can be reluctant to break it off even when it is clearly not delivering.
What should we ask for?
I would let General McChrystal draw up the list of asks, but I am pretty sure it would involve the movement of sizable Pakistani military units to put pressure on the areas that most affect the Taliban’s freedom of movement as well as the sharing of intelligence that would substantially change the local balance of power on either side of the Durand line.
What might we offer to Pakistan?
We should not offer what Pakistan has asked us for so often, namely a nuclear deal similar to the one given to India. The Indian deal was costly enough, but justifiable given the possible reward of a long-term shift in the trajectory of U.S.-Indian relations. Until Pakistan comes fully clean about the Khan network, any nuclear deal is a non-starter.
But the thing Pakistan cares about almost as much as (and perhaps more than) a nuclear deal is the Indian file. For nine years we have tried to get Pakistan to see in Afghanistan what we see, a dangerous problem of safe-havens for militant Islamist terrorist networks. Instead, when Pakistan looks at Afghanistan, it sees India — that is, a possible two-front conflict in which India conducts mischief in Pakistan’s backyard. That is why so much of Pakistan’s efforts in Afghanistan have been counterproductive. Maybe it is time to leverage that largely unfounded but deeply entrenched view. Maybe it is time to offer them some help on specific asks they have on their India file: say further restrictions on Indian activity in Afghanistan (even though it is benign), or perhaps reinvigorated efforts to deal with environmental and water resource issues related to the Kashmir, or perhaps reinvigorating regional confidence building measures with an expanded U.S.-sponsored Track II dialogue on conventional war doctrine.
Doubtless something like this was in the mind of Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan-Pakistan, because from the outset he tried to add India to his portfolio. The Indians apparently protested vehemently, and since Holbrooke’s stock has likewise sunk in Afghanistan, he is probably the wrong man to push the issue now.
What might we offer to India?
Anything Pakistan wants from India would be viewed as a huge "ask" by India. Given how the Indian relationship has languished under Obama — aside from the initial state dinner, there has been precious little progress in the strategic partnership since 2008 — one might argue that the circumstances are not propitious for a big ask of India. That would certainly be a safe, conventional view and on most days I would hold it myself. But wearing my "thinking outside the box hat," perhaps it would be possible to use this mini-crisis of paralysis as an opportunity to reset/relaunch the strategic partnership with India, as well as resetting Pakistan’s cooperation in the war in Afghanistan. We have gotten far less help from India than we have wanted, whether on the Iranian nuclear issue or on other concerns like climate change that the Obama administration especially prioritized. So we would not be sacrificing anything crucial in the short run by making a large "more-for-more" reach.
But we would have to sacrifice something in the form of giving in to some Indian asks of their own. One relatively easy thing to offer India is a more explicit commitment to support an Indian permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. (We could even score a diplomatic trifecta by promising the same to Japan to help the new government there reset our frayed bilateral relations, and explicitly withholding that promise from Brazil, the next most likely claimant, whose knuckles deserve to be rapped for unhelpful meddling on Iran).
Perhaps we could also offer a mix of public and confidential assurances regarding India’s bogeyman, the rise of an assertive and restless China. Or perhaps there are specific areas of deeper cooperation in the military or trade areas that would nudge the Indians along. If their negotiations over the civilian nuclear deal are any indication, we can be assured that the Indians already have a long laundry list of things they want from us and will drive a hard bargain accordingly.
But improving relations with Pakistan is a priority concern of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s and we already have a strategic partnership. Strategic partners are supposed to partner on strategic matters. Perhaps it is time to turn that rhetoric into a reality.
I recognize that the empirical record of more-for-more deals is rather mixed, so there is reason to be skeptical that a more-for-more-for-more deal of this sort could be put together. More to the point: I can think of many ideas that sounded good to me while I was wearing the "think outside the box hat" inside and that turned out to be dumb (thankfully, most were spotted as dumb by my betters and only a few of the dumb ones were actually tried); so my personal empirical record is mixed, too. A former colleague I respect who knows the region better than I do says my proposal is not dumb but perhaps naïve; we won’t get much satisfaction from trying to wheedle better behavior out of the Pakistanis. He says there is more benefit to be gotten to reset the policy by getting rid of the deadline, which he does call "stupid" and which is undermining everything else, including our ability to pressure Pakistan’s leaders since they think we are leaving. (He also thinks we should focus on going after the bad governance issues in Afghanistan.)
He makes an interesting suggestion: perhaps adding time on the Washington clock will actually accelerate the Afghan battlefield clock. He may be right, but despite mounting evidence that announcing the timeline was a strategic blunder, the White House seems no less wedded to their timeline than Pakistan is wedded to its unhelpful vision of Afghanistan.
So I am hard-pressed to come up with other ideas for accelerating the battlefield clock. And from my vantage point out here on the bleachers, it seems to me that the administration is just as hard-pressed. It might be worth a try.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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