The New Afghanistan Policy Is Set. The Question Is How to Implement It.

The New Afghanistan Policy Is Set. The Question Is How to Implement It.

Much attention is given to the U.S. troop presence and their security roles, but to succeed strong and effective diplomacy, artfully employed, is needed.

Working with Others to Build a Pathway to Peace

To help build a pathway to peace, the new U.S. strategy seeks to involve other key players. This would include neighbors such as China, Russia, as well as India. (Iran’s potential role remains unclear, though their support for the Taliban has reportedly grown.) The aim would be to  encourage Pakistan to play a positive role and building regional economic cooperation for the benefit of all. Given the very close China-Pakistan relationship, Beijing’s willingness to be a constructive partner will be vital. How India can be factored in is also critical. U.S. officials say that they would like to encourage confidence building measures, dialogue, and reduced nuclear dangers between Pakistan and India.

Developing a road map for this regional approach and a broad political strategy for moving toward peace is important, even if the road will be long and difficult. Engagement with the key players will help define what might be possible. At present, the Taliban seems to have no interest in a negotiated settlement, and it embodies a number of different elements likely with differing ideas about peace, except that all foreign troops must leave. Nevertheless, framing work can begin. Key players in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere will be looking for elements of U.S. thinking. That thinking, and encouragement of other governments, can be part of persuading Pakistan to exert more pressure on the Taliban.

What U.S. Envoy?

Getting to a negotiated political solution is going to take much leg work and will require a dedicated senior U.S. official to lead and oversee the process. Ambassadors on the ground must be empowered, but the United States needs someone of sufficient stature to have good access in Beijing, Moscow, New Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul and partner capitals. To guide this complex strategy, that official must help run a very well-coordinated and nimble policy process in Washington and keep Congress informed and onboard. Whether a special envoy, or preferably an assistant secretary of state, this person should be perceived to have the clout and authority to make things happen in the U.S.G. and to keep agencies in line. Over the years, pundits have suggested that pursuing a path to peace may need an international envoy, perhaps named by the UN, to facilitate progress. Others have cited the need for a group of “friends” build help bring the parties together. Those options can be explored, but the United States needs a full-time senior person and a well-resourced team now.

The new U.S. Afghanistan strategy gives direction for the way ahead. The challenge is effective and creative implementation. Managing expectations will be tough as people look for rapid results. Getting the mix of pressure, incentives and realism right is vital for good policy execution and progress.

Earl Anthony Wayne served in Afghanistan 2009–11. A retired U.S. Career Ambassador, he is a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a Senior Nonresident Advisor at CSIS.

Image: U.S. President Donald Trump announces his strategy for the war in Afghanistan during an address to the nation from Fort Myer, Virginia, U.S., August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.