U.S. Options in Afghanistan and Pakistan

On Thursday, April 13th, Hudson Institute hosted two former American diplomats for a discussion on future American policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The event, “U.S. Options in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, was moderated by Amb. Husain Haqqani (Senior Fellow & Director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute) and featured panelists, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad (Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq, and Afghanistan) and Amb. Robin Raphel (Former Assistant Secretary of State, South and Central Asian Affairs).

Earlier that very same day the US government dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal, the GBU-43/B (MOAB), in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province targeting ISIS militants and their expansive cave and tunnel network. The ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ (MOAB) was detonated only a few miles from Pakistan’s border in Achin District, Nangarhar.

The panel discussion focused on the relevance of issues ranging from the continuing operations in Afghanistan, questioning the very basis of pursuing a political compromise and solution with the Taliban, the utility of a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to Pakistan, possibly penalizing Pakistan by designating it as a state sponsor of terror for both supporting and providing sanctuary to the Taliban, considering risking further deterioration of relations with Pakistan, and entertaining a strategy of addressing the concerns of the Pakistani state in order to convince it to take decisive action in line with American and Afghan priorities.

Amb. Khalilzad voiced his support for declaring Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror and eliminating all sanctuaries and points of support between the Taliban and Pakistan. He also proposed the release of two documents submitted by the government of Pakistan to the United States that outline Pakistan’s position and interests within the nation. He also called for a strategy that declared unconditional support for the struggling Afghan government and emphasized the need for the US to focus on strengthening Afghanistan rather than ‘looking for a way out’. He opined this would force the Taliban to agree to reconciliation talks as there would no longer be the option of ‘waiting it out’ until a particular future date.

Amb. Robin Raphel advocated for continued cooperation between the US and Pakistan to achieve success in Afghanistan. Amb. Raphel argued that lack of clarity and focus within America’s strategy towards Afghanistan was what led to the Pakistani policy of “hedging” and supporting the Afghan Taliban as a counterweight to the possibility of Indian dominance within Afghanistan. She backed the idea of a clear and definitive US policy towards Afghanistan that would help bring clarity to Islamabad and would further strengthen Afghanistan both militarily and politically.