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Charles G. Cogan: The Political Class is Falling Off the War in Afghanistan

This article was originally published by The Huffington Post. Read more

Federico Manfredi: A Cairo Moment for Kandahar

Last January, I argued on the pages of World Policy Journal that the United States should end its war against the Taliban and focus on Al-Qaeda instead. The Obama administration should negotiate directly with the moderate factions of the Taliban movement, I said, offering them a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops and greater political inclusion in exchange for the termination of all their ties to Al-Qaeda. In March President Obama declared himself willing to negotiate with Taliban moderates, and since then, the notion that the Taliban do not pose a direct threat to the United States has slowly begun to sink in. Last week a senior White House official said that President Obama sees a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan’s future. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement that they have “no intention of harming other countries” and that they are fighting solely “for the independence of Afghanistan.” Obama should continue this conversation because it could potentially split the Taliban movement along the lines of moderates and radicals. This would make it much easier for the United States to engage the former while isolating the latter. A major impediment to dialogue is that many Afghans remain cynical and deeply conflicted about U.S. policy in the region. A political analyst from Kandahar (whose assessments are generally sound and often prescient) recently told me that he believes that the United States wants to establish a permanent military presence in Afghanistan to keep China out of Central Asia. He also reiterated the oft-repeated Pashtun complaint that the United States is propping up a puppet government made up of Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks to sideline the Pashtun people, ensuring that Afghanistan remains weak and divided. Obama must dispel these myths once and for all, and the best way to go about this delicate task would be for him to give a speech in Kandahar.

Jodi Liss: Pakistan — Loosening The Ties That Bind

However vicious, however Frankenstein-ian the Taliban, it doesn’t explain the origins of Pakistan's precarious condition. With Pakistan’s divided and distracted military, the corruption, the poverty, the radical Islamists, the maybe-loose nukes (despite the denials), anybody could be forgiven for thinking this weak country is on the verge of falling apart. The Taliban looks like an opportunistic virus ready to prey on the systemic weakness of its host. For all the shuttle diplomacy, prodding, and nagging by the United States, the only way really to settle Pakistan’s external problems is to deal with its internal problems. To survive, the country must find the political will to strengthen itself as a unified country. To do that, it has to look past its favorite and most populous province of Punjab, with its comfortable business, educational, and military elite, and its rich and corrupt cronies and special interests. Pakistan must deal with Punjab the way it treats its angry and marginalized provinces of Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the restive and resource-rich Baluchistan. The grievances of Baluchistan, Sindh and the NWFP are longstanding. Both the Baluch people and the Pashtun (of the NWFP) resisted becoming part of Pakistan from the start. These provinces have a much lower per capita income and literacy rate than Punjab, and unequal distribution of tax revenues leaves them stuck in poverty.

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