Much like the debate surrounding the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the discussion on the best course of US policy in Afghanistan is distorted by a number of faulty assumptions, if not outright myths. The essays in this forum call into question many of those assumptions and offer a different way of looking at the crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what is at stake for the people of the region and for the United States.
The principal rationale for America’s expanding military commitment in Afghanistan is that a Taliban takeover there would directly threaten US security because it would again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda to plot attacks against the United States. But the essays by Stephen Walt and John Mueller strongly refute that assumption, pointing out that a Taliban victory would not necessarily mean a return of Al Qaeda to Afghanistan, and that in any case the strategic value of Afghanistan and Pakistan as base camps for Al Qaeda is greatly exaggerated and can be easily countered.
Similarly, proponents of sending more troops to Afghanistan argue that Taliban success would embolden global jihadists everywhere and destabilize Pakistan in particular. Yet, as the essays by Selig Harrison and Priya Satia show, this narrative does not fit the realities. While American policy-makers and Al Qaeda may think of this as a grand meta-struggle between the United States and global jihadism, many Taliban fighters are motivated by other factors: by traditional Pashtun resistance to foreign occupation; by internal ethnic politics, such as rebellion against the Tajik-dominated government of Hamid Karzai; or by anger over the loss of life resulting from American/NATO aerial attacks that have gone awry.
As for Pakistan, the essays by Manan Ahmed and Mosharraf Zaidi explain why the Taliban threat to Pakistan is not as serious as many assume, and why a newly democratic Pakistan has turned increasingly against Islamist extremists. As Ahmed and Zaidi suggest, Pakistanis are quite capable of defending their country–not for American interests but for their own reasons–and Pakistani stability is more likely to be threatened than enhanced by military escalation in Afghanistan.
And finally, Robert Dreyfuss offers an exit strategy: as it winds down its counterinsurgency, Washington should encourage an international Bonn II conference that would lead to a new national compact in Afghanistan. —The Editors
ARTICLES IN THIS FORUM
Stephen M. Walt
, “High Cost, Low Odds”
, “The ‘Safe Haven’ Myth”
Selig S. Harrison
, “The Ethnic Split”
, “Attack of the Drones”
, “Paranoia Over Pakistan”
, “The Best Wall of Defense”
, “How to Get Out”
For a collection of The Nation‘s best Afghanistan coverage, see our special page of links, “Afghanistan In Crisis.”