The Danger Next Door


Sep 23, 2005

This commentary originally appeared in New York Times on September 23, 2005.

THE Sept. 18 elections for Parliament and provincial councils were an important step in Afghanistan's march toward democracy. But now that progress is threatened by an increasingly violent insurgency that uses Pakistan as a staging area for attacks. Unless the United States and Pakistan take steps to eliminate this sanctuary, the security situation in Afghanistan will continue to deteriorate and undermine the country's fragile democracy.

This year has been the most violent in Afghanistan since the United States helped overthrow the Taliban government in 2001. The number of Americans killed so far in 2005 (74) is a 570 percent increase from 2001 and a 50 percent increase from 2004. In addition, the number of insurgent attacks against Afghan civilians has steadily increased each year since 2001.

Unlike the violence in Iraq, the fighting in Afghanistan is not the result of a local population deeply hostile to American forces. A 2004 opinion poll by the Asia Foundation showed that 65 percent of Afghans had a favorable view of the United States government, and 67 percent had a favorable view of the American military - findings supported by my own observations and data from trips to the region during the last three years.

Nor is the fighting in Afghanistan the result of a failing American political and military strategy. American conventional and Special Forces have conducted effective strike operations and civic action programs that have undermined Taliban, Qaeda and Hezb-i-Islami insurgents and their local support network in Afghanistan.

Instead, a complex support network in Pakistan is the key to the Afghan insurgency's survival. Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan get supplies and help in Pakistani provinces like North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. Numerous captured Taliban prisoners have said they received training in Pakistani areas like the Mansehra district. Even more troubling, evidence suggests that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate has helped Taliban insurgents.

How can the insurgent sanctuary in Pakistan be eliminated?

First, Pakistani border police can strengthen controls along the Afghan-Pakistani border. American Special Forces have played a critical role in stopping infiltrators and training Afghans to patrol their borders over the last two years. But greater Pakistani participation is needed to block insurgents and their supplies.

Second, Pakistani forces can conduct an unconventional war that undermines popular support for the insurgents, captures or kills leaders and guerrillas, and destroys their support network. New Taliban recruits have replaced those killed or captured. Operating behind the scenes in deference to Pakistani sensitivities, the United States could help by providing intelligence and surveillance during the campaign.

Of course, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan faces serious obstacles to wiping out the insurgent base of support in his country. Since the 9/11 attacks, he has placated the West with unfulfilled promises of reform and crackdowns on extremists and simultaneously catered to Islamic political parties in order to retain their support.

Pushing Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan to act will require finding pressure points. Perhaps the most significant is tying American assistance to Pakistani cooperation. The United States gives Pakistan more than $700 million in military and economic assistance each year. This assistance covers areas like health, economic development, trade and law enforcement. The United States could tie continued assistance in some of these areas - as well as implicit American support in multilateral bodies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - to progress in defeating Afghan insurgents and their support network.

The United States can also focus on a second pressure point. President Musharraf wields power through a military government that seized control in 1999. Washington has been remarkably quiet about the shortcomings of democracy in Pakistan. In the absence of cooperation on counterinsurgency, the United States can and should increase pressure on Pakistan to pursue democratic reforms.

With the election of Hamid Karzai as president last year and last week's legislative voting, Afghanistan has made enormous political strides. It would be a shame to see this progress unravel through no fault of Afghanistan's, but through the failure of one of its neighbors to act and of the United States to do anything about it.

Seth G. Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, is the author of "Establishing Law and Order After Conflict."

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