Michael KreponAfghan Non-End Game

With Washington, its partners, and interested neighbors gearing up diplomatic efforts over Afghanistan, I’d like to remind readers what George Shultz wrote in his memoirs about the previous Afghan “settlement.” The 1988 Geneva accords, reached under the auspices of the United Nations, took six years of tortured negotiations. As Secretary Shultz recounted in Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (1993):

If Pakistan signed, it agreed to ‘prevent within its territory the training, equipping, financing and recruiting of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities against the other High Contracting Party [Afghanistan].’ But that was precisely what it had been doing and what we insisted on continuing as long as the Soviets continued to supply [their favorite Afghan boss] Najibullah.

After some discussion through our embassies, two phone calls were arranged. First, Pakistani Prime Minister Junejo called me to urge us to sign the accords and to pledge that regardless of the language the Pakistanis would agree to, they would continue to provide a home to the mujaheddin and to be a place through which U.S. arms and other supplies would flow to them. Several hours later, President Zia, the truly authoritative figure in Pakistan, called President Reagan with the same message. I heard the President ask Zia how he would handle the fact that they would be violating the agreement. Zia replied that they would ‘just lie about it. We’ve been denying our activities there for eight years.’ Then, the president recounted, Zia told him ‘Muslims have a right to lie in a good cause.’

The longer version of the language referenced above can be found in Annex I, Article II, Section 8. It obligated the High Contracting Parties, Pakistan and Afghanistan,

to prevent within its territory the training, equipping, financing and recruitment of mercenaries from whatever origin for the purpose of hostile activities against the other High Contracting Party, or the sending of such mercenaries into the territory of the other High Contracting Party and accordingly to deny facilities, including financing for the training, equipping and transit of such mercenaries.

A new Afghan settlement, if one is reachable, may also include core obligations that have a short shelf life. Much official and expert commentary is based on a different assumption – that the United States has sufficient military capabilities and diplomatic influence to engineer less-than-temporary outcomes. My skeptical view was offered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in testimony given last May:

If a lasting political settlement can be found in Afghanistan, it will require extraordinarily difficult internal and regional deal making. I doubt whether this heroic undertaking is worthy of an annual U.S. military commitment in excess of $100 billion dollars. Deal making will continue to be pursued at a fraction of this cost and sacrifice. The results may well be modest or ephemeral, no matter how much we spend there.

[h/t to Janet M. Simons for finding the link. -Ed.]

Joe Collins, a retired Army Colonel and a traveling companion to the Soviet Union, has been thinking quite a bit about Afghanistan, a natural consequence of teaching cadets at West Point and serving in the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations. I recommend Joe’s new book, Understanding War in Afghanistan (2011). His bottom line:

There will be no end to the problems of Afghanistan unless there is a functioning government in Kabul that is linked into the provinces and districts and able to perform the basic security and welfare functions of a state. A modicum of nation-building in Afghanistan is in the interest of the United States and its coalition partners.


  1. Janet M. Simons (History)

    For those of you who are interested in the May testimony referenced above, here is the link:

    http://foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Krepon, Michael.pdf

  2. arch (History)

    Sure wish you and Col. Collins were wrong. I sometimes wonder if Joe Bftsplk is an Afghan.

    Remember that Zia died 4 months after the 1988 Accords, throwing pretty much everything into doubt, and bringing a new crowd up a notch in the Army.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. gandalf (History)

    There is no possibility of a federal power in Kabul, the tribes will never give up their autonomy.The Taliban in reality are the lesser Pakhtun tribes opposing the Popalzai, Barakzai and Alikozai ruling and dominant tribes. That will continue whether the US and allies are there or not.Afghan society is far to primitive and uneducated to have broad or progressive improvement.If there are opium poppies there will be constant fighting.Fighting is culturally necessary to be Pakhtun and that will not change.They know we’re leaving, they know they’re staying. Why would the warring parties want to negotiate anything?

    • Frank (History)

      Agree. The geography dictates politics in Afghanistan: the deep ravines will only really be ruled locally. The Pahtans provide their own security: they have always been well armed. Joe Collins’ thesis notwithstanding.

      The US-led war on terrorism has left in its wake a far more unstable world than existed on that momentous day in 2001: Rather than diminishing, the threat from al Qaeda and its affiliates has grown, engulfing new regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe and creating fear among peoples from Australia to Zanzibar.

      The US invasions of two Muslim countries have so far failed to contain either the original organization or the threat that now comes from its copycats in British or French cities who have been mobilized through the Internet. The al Qaeda leader is still at large, despite the largest manhunt in history.

      Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, a hundred thousand Western troops, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The Taliban have made a dramatic comeback. The international community had an extended window of opportunity for several years to help the Afghan people—they failed to take advantage of it.

      Pakistan has undergone a slower but equally bloody meltdown. In 2006 there were just 6 bombings — compare that to now.

      In 2011, American power lies shattered, US credibility lies in ruins. Ultimately the strategies of the Bush administration have created a far bigger crisis in South and Central Asia than existed before 9/11.

      Eight years of neocon foreign policies have been a spectacular disaster for American interests in the Islamic world, leading to the rise of Iran as a major regional power, the advance of Hamas and Hezbollah, the wreckage of Iraq, with over two million external refugees and the ethnic cleansing of its Christian population, and now the implosion of Afghanistan and Pakistan, probably the most dangerous development of all.

      The military approach to terror has, and always will be a failure.

  4. yousaf (History)

    If you haven’t already seen the movie “Restrepo”, I suggest watching it.

    It explains in about an hour why the military approach was flawed from the start, and why the situation now is worse than 10 years ago.

    Incidentally, the air-conditioning budget for Afghanistan is $20b/year > NASA budget.

  5. Frank (History)

    Richard Falk is an Emeritus Prof. of International Law at Princeton University and Research Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His Commentary is a must-read:


    “It was Albert Einstein who reminded the world that “doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results” is “insanity”. Whether American militarism is better regarded as insanity or addiction is not so significant, but that its compulsiveness discourages a proper diagnosis and cure is a distressing reality. It has led to a succession of prolonged bloody confrontations that bring misery and encourage extremism. It is this pattern of lethal repetition in overseas military intervention under American auspices that is best understood, in Einstein’s sense, as “insane geopolitics”.”

  6. John Schilling (History)

    I’d like to remind Col. Collins that, e.g, there is a government in Athens that is linked into the provinces and districts and able to perform the basic security and welfare functions of a state, yet Greece still has the odd problem or two. I believe the list of states that have problem-free governments is the null set. Question is, are they American problems?

    An Afghanistan perpeptually divided into warring tribes and wretched oppressed victims is no problem for the United States provided none of those tribes decide to host Al Qaeda v2.0 or the like. And it doesn’t take many SOF operators, Predators, and/or B-52s to ensure that any tribe which does follow such a path is lethally disadvantaged in its perpeptual war with the neighbors.

    A rump, and nominally democratic, Afghan National Government that rules nothing but Kabul might be useful in providing a physical base and political legitimacy for American operations against such hostile tribes. It would block others attempting to create a more hostile Afghan nation-state. And it could be useful as a nucleus for the crystalization of a genuinely democratic Afghan nation-state if and when the Afghan people want such a thing. Should not be terribly costly or dangerous to secure, provided it remains limited in scope.

    An attempt to create a democratic Afghan nation-state now, is an expensive and bloody exercise in solving problems that are not ours in a manner that is not appreciated by the nominal beneficiaries. If that is the plan, the result will be failure.

  7. Adam Neira (History)

    Prayers for Afghanistan.

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