Afghanistan

IN-THE-NEWS: Douglas Lute Joins ABC This Week with George Stephanopolous to talk Afghanistan

CGA Principal and former NATO Ambassador Douglas Lute told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on "This Week" Sunday that the United States is stuck in a political and military stalemate in Afghanistan, and it is unclear whether President Donald Trump's new strategy in the country will resolve it.  Read more here

IN-THE-NEWS: Top former US officials call for talks with Taliban

WASHINGTON: As the Trump administration is gearing up to announce its Afghan policy review, four top US officials formerly linked in some capacity with Afghan war have urged the Trump administration to move for a political settlement in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and other regional partners.

Speaking at a US think tank, the influential officials also snubbed some Afghan participants who called for reconsidering Durand Line and US aid to Pakistan saying that even complete halt in US aid won’t change Pakistan’s position as the country is no more dependent on American assistance.

The speakers included former US ambassador to NATO and former deputy national security adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, former acting special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2016-2017), Laurel Miller, former senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009-2013), Barnett Rubin and former senior adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the under secretary of defense for policy, Christopher Kolenda.

They said sending a few thousand more troops to Afghanistan will not change the situation drastically and negotiated political solution is the only way forward for the United States. They added that with the exception of India, all regional powers like China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan want a non-military political solution to the Afghan conflict as no one wants permanent US military bases in their backyard.

During the debate two Afghan participants tried to blame Pakistan for Afghan trouble and credited US aid for Pakistan’s recent economic turn-around. However experts completely disagree with them.

“US aid did not give rise to Pakistan’s economy,” said Barnett Rubin adding that there are misconception about the magnitude of US aid. He explained that US aid was not given to Pakistan in return for Pakistan’s fight against Taliban in Afghanistan. “US assistance to Pakistan was given under an agreement between General Musharraf and President Bush which allowed use of Pakistan’s territory to put our military in Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s permission, we could not have entered our forces in Afghanistan, a landlocked country.”

He said if US breaks the agreement, Pakistan can also follow suit and stop movement of Nato and US containers on its soil. Laurel Miller who served as Af-Pak representative said US can cut off 100 percent aid to Pakistan but it would still not change Pakistan’s perception about its security concerns.

She said US wants to use aid to press Pakistan from its position of supporting Taliban but the administration has to understand that Pakistan is no more dependent on the US assistance. On a question about Durand Line, she said US can’t resolve the problem as Pakistan would never accept that. “It is not a realistic thing to assume US will help Afghanistan in its claim on Durand Line”.

She said US should facilitate international mediator between Taliban and Afghan government so that regional partners especially Pakistan could understand that US is sincere in peace process.

“These countries would be in the region forever. They have stakes and if they see that a political outcome can protect their stakes they are more likely to support that solution,” she added. Douglas Lute, Former US ambassador to Nato said US troop surge of a few thousand will not break the stalemate in Afghanistan. He called for effective political dialogue to resolve the conflict.

Christopher Kolenda said US is spending about $25 billion every year on Afghan war. He said the only possible solution for US is a negotiated settlement. “Since Second World War studies show that insurgency that has external sanctuary and internal support has been successful every single time,” he said.

He said Pakistan believes a stable Afghanistan will team up with India to harm Pakistan and India understands this fear and it is using its relations with Afghanistan to forward its own interests in the region.

This article originally appeared in The News, July 15, 2017. 

IN-THE-NEWS: Can more U.S. troops in Afghanistan help end the war?

As part of the Trump administration's review of America's 16-year war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the president has given him the authority to decide appropriate troop levels. The U.S. commander in that country has recommended boosting the number by thousands more. PBS Newshour's William Brangham speaks with CGA Principal and retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

COMMENTARY: A Political Surge is What's Needed in Afghanistan

By: Doug Lute

As the Trump Administration considers options to break the stalemate in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, it is important to look beyond military approaches. 

The roots of Afghanistan's problems require a political surge in support of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

For too long American policy has fixated on the security situation and the military means required to address it. The military effort has been a shiny object that has captured our attention while the political roots of the war and potential political approaches to resolving it have been discounted, under-resourced, or even ignored.  Military tools alone can sustain the current stalemate, but not reverse it.  Adding a few thousand or even many more troops will not substantially change the situation. Ending the war primarily through military means is a mirage.The security stalemate is a symptom of three inter-related political stalemates: in Kabul within the Afghan government, regionally with Afghanistan's neighbors, and ultimately between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban. First, weak Afghan governance, zero-sum politics and endemic corruption fuel the Taliban insurgency. The compromise that formed the National Unity Government in the wake of the disputed 2014 presidential election resolved the immediate political crisis, but the parties have been unable to move beyond narrow partisan interests.

Now key political milestones are on the horizon: parliamentary elections in 2018; presidential elections in 2019; and in 2020 the next installment of international funding for Afghan security forces, the civilian government and development support. Success at these milestones depends mainly on the Afghan government’s moving beyond stalemate, not on how many U.S. troops are on the ground.

Second, Afghanistan's relations with key neighbors are also stalemated, especially with Pakistan where Taliban leaders enjoy a safe haven, but also with Russia and Iran. For its part, U.S. attempts at regional approaches to stabilizing Afghanistan have not been effective due to competing, higher priority interests. In Pakistan, U.S. core interests include suppressing terrorist groups with trans-national reach including the remnants of core al Qaeda, internal stability in a country with the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal, and the stability of the often tense Pakistan-India relations. 

U.S. interests with Russia focus on Ukraine, challenges to NATO, the crisis in Syria, and interference in democratic processes in the U.S. and other democracies. Our priority interests with Iran are her destabilizing activities across the Middle East including support for the Assad government in Syria, the implementation of the nuclear agreement, and the potential for military miscalculation in the Gulf. With China, too, though our interests in Afghanistan largely converge, we have interests more important than stabilizing Afghanistan. The net effect is that we have tended to discount regional approaches and focused on stabilizing Afghanistan from within, which cannot possibly work.

Finally, despite years of trying we have yet to gain traction on an Afghan-led political approach to the Taliban. The Taliban are not going away and will not be defeated by military means alone. The war in Afghanistan will end with a political settlement, not a military victory.  Some argue that recent Taliban battlefield gains diminish their interest in pursuing talks with the Afghan government and before talks we must dominate militarily. The security situation is actually stalemated with both sides suffering heavy attrition. We should consider anew with our Afghan partner what it would take to move towards a political settlement, using both military means and political compromise to improve chances of success.

In Afghanistan, the Trump Administration — like its two predecessors — encounters a case where political approaches will prove decisive in the long run. As in all conflicts, military tools are only a means to a political end. We should focus on what matters most: breaking the three political stalemates. What we need is a political surge. 

Douglas Lute is a former NSC official in the Bush and Obama Administrations responsible for coordinating US policy in Afghanistan and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2013-17). He is also a Senior Fellow with Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.