Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Negotiating the Great Game: Ending the U.S. Intervention in Afghanistan

Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Negotiating the Great Game: Ending the U.S. Intervention in Afghanistan

Article excerpt


Nearly thirteen years into the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan, the conflict appears to have frustrated international political and military efforts to end it. After the U.S. invested in a counterinsurgency strategy, a decisive conclusion to the conflict continues to be undermined by the Taliban's safe haven in Pakistan's impenetrable tribal areas and by the on-again, off-again diplomatic efforts to reach a political settlement. What fragile progress was made in recent years to end the insurgency now seems to have stalled. Instead, at the time of this writing, the Taliban are gradually regaining their strategic momentum, the Afghan government is posturing to fragment along old ethnic and tribal fault lines once international troops leave, and the United States is steadily losing its ability to influence both the Afghans and the Taliban.

Focusing analysis on the United States and the Taliban only, this article aims to examine how the United States reached this point by: identifying the key inflection points in the evolving U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and its implications on ending the Taliban-led insurgency; showing the contributions of the U.S.-led civilian-military resource "surge" and counterinsurgency strategy in setting the conditions for a negotiated political settlement; examining why the conflict has frustrated interna- tional negotiation efforts to date; and addressing the question of whether or not opportunities currently exist to cultivate conditions for a sustain- able peace agreement before the end of 2014, when the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will formally end combat operations in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, time is running out. If the United States wants to shape the outcome of the war and the regional implications in its favor, it will have to do so prior to 2015, when its coercive leverage will significantly decrease. Yet, the United States cannot successfully influence the end of the war under self- imposed time constraints. As the clock ticks toward U.S. military withdrawal, continued combat operations with no progress on defeating the Taliban's safe haven in Pakistan serves only to sustain the status quo of violent conflict. On the international level, at the May 2012 NATO Chicago Summit, alli- ance leaders affirmed their commit- ment to an "irreversible transition"1 in Afghanistan, further encouraging Taliban leadership to regenerate their losses, bide their time, and strike on Kabul in 2015.

The situation also grows more difficult for U.S. policymakers to navi- gate. Washington continues to be domestically pressured to substantially withdraw troops and resources; anything less is fiscally unsustainable and politically unjustifiable. The trajectory of U.S. diplomatic efforts will not be able to bring a meaningful political solution, reconciliation, and stability to the region. U.S. negotiation rhetoric has rapidly devolved into a timeline- driven discussion to get out of Afghanistan, while the Taliban have recog- nized that the U.S.-set withdrawal date by December 2016 negates their need to negotiate. The United States finds itself at risk of compromising its own redlines to get the Taliban to negotiate at all, and the interests of the Taliban and the Afghan government do not appear to converge beyond wanting the withdrawal of international forces, which makes reconciliation especially difficult to achieve at all. Indeed, the time for a political solution in Afghanistan may not yet be right. Even so, the United States and its allies feel enormous pressure to transition out of armed intervention. Even at the risk of a renewed civil war.

Now, the pragmatic way ahead for the United States is not to end the conflict, but to get out of it, while hoping to maintain some capability to continue countering terrorists who threaten U.S. interests abroad and at home. The comprehensive civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy was the best option to terminate the war and eliminate the Taliban's entrenched power. …

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