When the Obama Administration began a 60-day review of its Afghanistan strategy, a diverse group of progressive experts in development, counter-terrorism, regional politics and US politics came together to advise NSN on a set of principles that might guide both the Administration in building a new strategy and advocates in Congress, the media and the public in judging a proposed strategy. We begin from the premise that the situation in the United States, and the history and dynamics of the region, require a sharp differentiation between objectives that we might like to achieve and a baseline of what must be achieved for our national interests and our moral obligations – to our military, our citizens and the people of Afghanistan.
Nearly 1,000 delegates from more than 100 countries, including some 60 foreign ministers, are meeting today in Bonn, Germany, to discuss the future of Afghanistan. With both Pakistani and Taliban leaders absent, expectations are modest. The conference is a reminder that, as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) writes, a successful transition in Afghanistan rests on continued political and economic engagement that focuses on building a legitimate and effective state, even as NATO military presence winds down. An acceptable solution also needs regional buy-in, first and foremost from recalcitrant Pakistan. Here, too, resources should be aimed toward empowering civilians and making clear that Pakistan's other choice is international isolation, not just punishing the security apparatus. As former Congresswoman Jane Harman writes, "Congress should not confuse security aid to the Pakistani military with economic assistance designed to shore up civilian political capacity."
This weekend, a suicide bomber blew up an armored bus in the capital of Afghanistan, killing 17 people, including 13 Americans. That attack is one more tragic event in a mixed picture where violence in Afghanistan is trending. While the Pentagon sees fewer insurgent-initiated attacks, the UN notes a rise in civilian casualties. No attack should derail the essential process of transition to Afghan authority - on security but also in politics and the economy. The first of two international conferences aimed at coordinating the transition process begins this week in Istanbul, Turkey. That conference will focus on security, good governance and economic growth. Governance, specifically, is an area that needs strengthening for the handover to be successful. As a Pentagon report noted last week, the government of Afghanistan has made only "limited progress" towards being sustainable and accountable.