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Report 5 December 2011

Afghanistan 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."

Conference on Afghanistan peace and transition opens today, with expectations low. As the AP reports, "The Bonn conference is focused on the transfer of security responsibilities from international forces to Afghan security forces during the next three years, long-term prospects for international aid and a possible political settlement with the Taliban to ensure the country's viability beyond 2014." Expectations for the conference remain low, as neither Pakistan nor representatives for the Taliban are in attendance. The American Security Project's Joshua Foust underscores the pessimism: "Pakistan's withdrawal from Bonn could be more or less a death-blow to the conference. Without Taliban participation, the conference's utility was going to be severely limited. But missing the Taliban's primary sponsor and support, in addition to the Taliban, and possibly the only other regional player with sufficient clout to alter Afghan politics (after Iran's seizure of the British embassy today there is almost no hope of their attending), there is little hope for Bonn II to be anything other than an expensive piece of theater that will do little to advance or save the country." [AP, 12/5/11. Joshua Foust, 11/30/11]

In Afghanistan, an effective transition demands political and economic engagement as NATO military forces draw down. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) writes, "Our message in Bonn must be that in 2014, when the majority of our troops will leave the country, we will begin a new phase in our relationship with Afghanistan. We must make clear that our military will continue to work with the Afghan National Security Forces to prevent the return of terrorist safe havens. Much as we are doing in Iraq, we will remain vigorously engaged politically and economically on security, governance, and economic and social development... While Afghans must decide their future, the United States' role can be pivotal, providing security guarantees, investing in economic development, and supporting an emerging political class of Afghans who work hard to earn public legitimacy and consent to govern. We need to build the foundation for a comprehensive peace process, which after all should be the dividend of our military sacrifice in the region these past ten years." [John Kerry, 12/1/11]

Pakistan policy requires renewed outreach to civilian actors, clarity for Pakistan that its alternative is international isolation. The continued discord between the U.S. and Pakistan has overshadowed the Bonn conference. But finding a solution for Afghanistan requires finding a way to work with Pakistan. As former Congresswoman Jane Harman and Robert Hathaway, now both at the Woodrow Wilson Center, explain, "[W]riting Pakistan out of the U.S. foreign policy script is not an option." Those two summarize the findings of a 17-member working group they led, noting that knee-jerk cutting of all aid to Pakistan would be counterproductive to U.S. goals. Attention should paid to the type of aid in order to empower civilian actors: "Congress should not confuse security aid to the Pakistani military with economic assistance designed to shore up civilian political capacity; food, health and energy shortfalls in Pakistan must be addressed; and the groundwork must be laid for a successful Pakistan and a long-term U.S.-Pakistani partnership."

The relationship, of course, is two-sided, and Pakistani leaders must realize the risk of their current course, write Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams of the Center for American Progress: "Pakistan is playing a risky game by sitting out the Bonn talks, however. First, it fuels an increasingly strong impression among leaders in the United States, Afghanistan and other countries that Pakistan is not a constructive player in Afghanistan and that it should be confronted directly rather than accommodated. While the deaths of the soldiers in Mohmand is a tragedy, the deaths of American and Afghan soldiers fighting Pakistan's proxies is no less so, and mistrust of Pakistan is already high in both the U.S. Congress and Afghan public opinion. If Pakistan chooses to remove itself from constructive discussions about how to fashion a political settlement in Afghanistan, it may find those discussions dominated by arguments for a containment and isolation strategy of Pakistan worldwide." [Jane Harman and Robert Hathaway, 12/1/11. Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams, 12/3/11]

What We're Reading

A drone that Iranian officials claimed to have taken down may be an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that went missing over western Afghanistan late last week.

The Obama administration is planning for a $523.42 billion base defense budget in 2013, with an additional $82.53 billion for contingency operations, a combined one-year reduction of about $47 billion in the base budget.

The U.S. Embassy in Iraq drastically limited movement between U.S. bases - even within the fortified International or "Green" Zone - following reports of credible terrorist threats.

Mohamed ElBaradei said the liberal youth behind Egypt's uprising have been "decimated" in parliamentary elections dominated by Islamists and expressed concern about the rise of hard-line religious elements.

Syria has "responded positively" to an Arab League request to send observers to the country as part of a peace plan to end the nation's eight-month crisis, the Foreign Ministry said.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are increasing concerns about violence in the lead-up to the release of the results of last week's presidential election.

President Felipe Calderon acknowledged that despite five years of battling drug cartels, criminals today pose "an open threat" to Mexico's democratic order.

Russians voting in parliamentary elections apparently turned against the ruling United Russia party in large numbers.

The leaders of Germany and France met under intense pressure to agree a plan for imposing budget discipline across the euro zone, as markets rallied in the hope they can produce a sweeping solution to the debt crisis.

China's security chief has warned that the government needs better methods to deal with social unrest due to a slowing economy.

Commentary of the Day

James Traub explains that one of the great tropes of Republican criticism of Barack Obama is a disproven allegation that the president goes around the world apologizing for America's past misdeeds, but asks, what's wrong with apologizing for misdeeds anyway?

Todd Purdum explores George Kennan's legacy.

Peter Coy asks: Will Angela Merkel act to save the euro, or won't she?