A Diplomatic Surge in Afghanistan?
Without the right people and the right strategy, it won’t help.


Elise Jordan

Unfortunately, the current diplomatic strategy has essentially overlooked or abandoned our moderate Afghan allies — out of political expediency and a misguided sense of pragmatism — allowing Islamic hardliners to consolidate power and influence. Following Karzai’s contested reelection, the administration’s relationship with him has deteriorated beyond repair, as has his relationship with his own people. Over the past two years, Karzai has threatened to join the Taliban, cried at a press conference, and signed into law increasingly hard-line Islamic decrees. More important, rather than moving closer to the West, Karzai’s inner circle is now dominated by Iranian, Pakistani, and Russian influences. A telling example of the real victims who will suffer if this path continues is the Karzai’s government’s recent attempt to ban women’s shelters, calling them dens of prostitution for the international community.

Last week, warlord Burhanuddin Rabbani — Afghanistan’s president during the bloody civil war, who now chairs the peace council — invited religious scholars from the Muslim world to come to Afghanistan and offer their input on ending the war. Rabbani is currently in Saudi Arabia, the site of ongoing Taliban talks, where he was joined by international leaders, including Marc Grossman, for negotiation and dialogue. It’s a dicey proposition — ethnic tensions could incite civil war, hard-won human-rights gains in Afghanistan could disappear, and neighboring countries such as China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia have competing interests.

The irony is that a “diplomatic surge” now would be far more useful in Iraq, where all but the most enterprising diplomats were operationally stunted until the violence declined in recent years after the success of the military surge in 2007. Iraq’s government formation languished for nine months, and now the real work should be in the State Department’s lane, if they get funding from Congress. Even with a “diplomatic surge,” a Pentagon source familiar with negotiations maintains that 20,000 troops will likely be requested past the 2011 deadline.

So, do we need a diplomatic surge? Yes — especially since the Obama team has recently put negotiations with the Taliban into overdrive. But without the right players leading the way, a surge in peace can only seriously begin once the fighting stops.

— Elise Jordan is a New York€’based writer who frequently travels to Afghanistan. She served as a director for communications in the National Security Council in 2008 and 2009 and was a speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


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