Dexter Filkins’ Baradar-capture story yesterday — well, it made me regret a lot of starry-eyed presumptions I made when the capture occurred. But not the logic behind them! Check:
“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”
Behind that statement is a confluence of interests so utterly fundamental that the inability to capitalize on it diplomatically is a first-order disaster. An envoy from the administration needs to say: We’re on board with that sentiment 100 percent! Pakistan should under no circumstances be cut out of a deal. We’re happy to see that you guys talk to Hamid Karzai’s government now without the binding mechanism of our trilateral summitry. Believe us, we want you doing that, because it should convince you that Pakistan has an interlocutor in Karzai, not an obstacle to Pakistani interests in a post-conflict Afghanistan.
Look, we get it: you sponsor the Taliban because you want strategic depth on your eastern border. You can get that from Karzai; and we’re here to help you get it! Pakistan can have a role in South Asia commensurate with the great power that it is!
And because we’re so sincere about that, we want you involved in the peace talks in a very specific way. We want you to deliver the Taliban and the Haqqanis to the table, under whatever circumstances of amnesty work for you. Then we want you to guarantee that in a post-war Afghanistan, they’re not backsliding on their commitments to backsliding on al-Qaeda. We’re going to put that on you. Look at that: you get an important role in Afghanistan, and it allows us to bring the war to a steady conclusion on mutually-agreeable terms. You win, we win, Karzai wins, the Taliban… kind of win (yeah, we said it), our mutual enemies in al-Qaeda (and the Pak Taliban!) lose. Now who wants flood relief?
Oh, and in case we need to say it: if we start seeing al-Qaeda slipping back into the country, it’s wrath-of-God time.
When people mouth the truism that There’s No Military Solution To The Afghanistan War, they’re both right and typically uncreative about thinking through what A Political Solution To The Afghanistan War looks like. I submit that the imagined diplomatic proposal above is an opening gambit.