The United States is furious at Pakistan for its willingness to protect American enemies. Pakistan is furious at the United States for conducting attacks on its sovereign territory. In the end it doesn't matter. They need each other. By George Friedman. "U.S. and Pakistan: Afghan Strategies is republished with permission of STRATFOR."
US President Barack Obama will give a speech on Afghanistan on June 22. Whatever he says, it is becoming apparent that the United States is exploring ways to accelerate the drawdown of its forces in the country. It is also clear that U.S. relations with Pakistan are deteriorating to a point where cooperation - whatever level there was - is breaking down. These are two intimately related issues. Any withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly an accelerated one, will leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan that the Kabul government will not be able to fill. Afghanistan is Pakistan's back door, and its evolution is a matter of fundamental interest to Pakistan. A U.S. withdrawal means an Afghanistan intertwined with and influenced by Pakistan. Therefore, the current dynamic with Pakistan challenges any withdrawal plan.
There may be some in the U.S. military who believe that the United States might prevail in Afghanistan, but they are few in number. The champion of this view, Gen. David Petraeus, has been relieved of his command of forces in Afghanistan and promoted (or kicked upstairs) to become director of the CIA. The conventional definition of victory has been the creation of a strong government in Kabul controlling an army and police force able to protect the regime and ultimately impose its will throughout Afghanistan. With President Hamid Karzai increasingly uncooperative with the United States, the likelihood of this outcome is evaporating. Karzai realizes his American protection will be withdrawn and understands that the Americans will blame him for any negative outcomes of the withdrawal because of his inability or unwillingness to control corruption.
Defining Success in Afghanistan
There is a prior definition of success that shaped the Bush administration's approach to Afghanistan in its early phases. The goal here was the disruption of al Qaeda's operations in Afghanistan and the prevention of further attacks on the United States from Afghanistan. This definition did not envisage the emergence of a stable and democratic Afghanistan free of corruption and able to control its territory. It was more modest and, in many ways, it was achieved in 2001-2002. Its defect, of course, was that the disruption of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, while useful, did not address the evolution of al Qaeda in other countries. In particular, it did not deal with the movement of al Qaeda operatives to Pakistan, nor did it address the Taliban, which were not defeated in 2001-2002 but simply declined combat on American terms, re-emerging as a viable insurgency when the United States became bogged down in Iraq.
The mission creep from denying Afghan bases to al Qaeda to the transformation of Afghan society had many roots and was well under way during the Bush administration, but the immediate origin of the current strategy was the attempt to transfer the lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan. The surge in Iraq, and the important political settlement with Sunni insurgents that brought them into the American fold, reduced the insurgency. It remains to be seen whether it will produce a stable Iraq not hostile to American interests. The ultimate Iraq strategy was a political settlement framed by an increase in forces, and its long-term success was never clear. The Obama administration was prepared to repeat the attempt in Afghanistan, at least by using Iraq as a template if not applying exactly the same tactics.
However, the United States found that the Taliban were less inclined to negotiate with the United States, and certainly not on the favorable terms of the Iraqi insurgents, simply because they believed they would win in the long run and did not face the dangers that the Sunni insurgents did. The military operations that framed the search for a political solution turned out to be a frame without a painting. In Iraq, it is not clear that the Petraeus strategy actually achieved a satisfactory political outcome, and its application to Afghanistan does not seem, as yet, to have drawn the Taliban into the political process in the way that incorporating the Sunnis made Iraq appear at least minimally successful.
As we pointed out after the death of Osama bin Laden, his demise, coupled with the transfer of Petraeus out of Afghanistan, offered two opportunities. The first was a return to the prior definition of success in Afghanistan, in which the goal was the disruption of al Qaeda. Second, the departure of Petraeus and his staff also removed the ideology of counterinsurgency, in which social transformation was seen as the means toward a practical and radical transformation of Afghanistan. These two events opened the door to the redefinition of the U.S. goal and the ability to claim mission accomplished for the earlier, more modest end, thereby building the basis for terminating the war.