Drafting a new Afghan-Pakistan strategy

Commentary

Europe and the U.S need a new strategy to deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan. A transatlantic Baker-Hamilton-style commission is necessary.


A shortened version of this article was published in the European Voice on 10 July, 2008

With the recent terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul -- which has left 41 dead and the finger of suspicion pointing at the Pakistani intelligence services -- the world has yet again been reminded that no other region in the world poses as grave a threat to international security as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The story of Western failure in Afghanistan is now all too familiar, painfully illustrated, now almost weekly, by the repatriation of fallen NATO soldiers. But the story is repeated across the border in Pakistan with serious consequences for both countries.

The optimism that followed the Pakistani elections has turned to concern as the government's negotiations with militants appear to have made a terrorist safe-haven safer and attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan more frequent.

The military and intelligence services are sympathetic to an Islamic fundamentalist creed while militant groups affiliated with al Qaeda operate freely on its territory. Bickering between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, including over the future of President Pervez Musharraf, have made it difficult to establish the necessary civilian control over the military.

Even if they wanted to, the ability of the Pakistani military forces to deal with the current threat, let alone a widespread insurgency, is questionable. So is Western leverage on Pakistan's security forces. In the near-term, a key threat is loss of control in western Pakistan to an increasingly capable alliance of militant groups.

If U.S policy has failed to deal with this long-growing problem, European policy has been technical and largely apolitical. Europe is Pakistan's largest trading partner receiving 27.4% of Pakistan's exports and providing 17% of its total imports. In 2005 alone, EU imports from Pakistan totalled €3.4 billion in 2005. Between 2002-2006, the EU provided €125 million in aid to Pakistan.

Yet despite this, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the EU's role in Pakistan bears all the hallmarks of the pre-Maastricht polity it no longer wants to be: technocratic, apolitical, and marginalised by Washington.

This needs to change. For the U.S, even under a new president - even under President Obama - cannot succeed in the region without a united front with Europe. And Europe cannot hope to achieve its aims by technical programmes alone.

But to create framework for US-European cooperation, work needs to begin now. Already a number of reports are being written in Washington, which will influence the McCain and Obama campaigns. But none of these will be able to chart a way forward for transatlantic cooperation. More, they risk repeating standard pattern of U.S-European cooperation: the U.S as the policy developer and demandeur and Europe as the apolitical and hesitant money-spender.

For transatlantic cooperation to take place, solutions will have to be developed jointly and European leaders will need to "own" the policy options. Otherwise, European government will find it difficult to explain the need to step up efforts in the region and the European Commission's technical programmes will continue define the EU's policy.

To build the necessary unity and a political strategy, a transatlantic Baker-Hamilton-style commission is necessary.  Such a commission could examine the key issues in the region, visit all countries and players and develop a set of recommendations for a new transatlantic approach to begin in early January 2009 when a new U.S president is in place.

And who better than to launch this than the Nicolas Sarkozy? The French president has already played a crucial role in bridging the U.S/European divide on the Afghan mission and - after a successful donor's conference - has taken the help of the EU's rotating, six-month presidency.

Ideally, such a commission should be independent, but endorsed by the French, German and British governments and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, as well as, however tacitly, Senators McCain and Obama.

Everyone knows of the dangers posed by instability on the Afghan-Pakistan border and more generally in Pakistan. But so far, little has been done to develop the kind of Euro-Atlantic consensus about policy options necessary for a new U.S president and Europe to collaborate.

Worse still, the rejection by Ireland of the Lisbon Treaty threatens to push the issue further back in the queue. But European leaders must not take their eyes of real-world problems and drafting a new Euro-Atlantic policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan is as real as it gets.  

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: ECFR Council, Asia & China

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