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  • Author: Daniel Markey
  • Publication Date: 04-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: President Barack Obama publicly unveiled his administration's so-called AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) strategy on March 27, 2009. Over the subsequent weeks, the White House has also briefed relevant congressional leaders and committees, the media, NATO allies, and other regional and international partners. The U.S. House of Representatives has moved ahead with its own legislative debate (the PEACE bill), and the administration recently submitted a 2009 supplemental budget request consistent with its new strategy.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Terrorism, War, Counterinsurgency
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, United States, Asia
  • Author: Mona Yacoubian, Scott Lasensky
  • Publication Date: 06-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Punctuated by conflict in Iraq, an ascendant ran, and continued instability in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, rising volatility in the Middle East threatens U.S. interests in the region. Meanwhile, sectarianism, al-Qaeda–inspired terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) all serve as troubling overlays to this complex mix. Mired in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has yet to develop a comprehensive strategic framework that addresses these interrelated challenges. Instead, U.S. policy has been largely crisis-driven, attempting to put out fires by confronting issues on an ad hoc basis rather than seeking to respond to the underlying forces and tensions that catalyze conflict and instability in the Middle East.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Iran, Middle East, North Korea, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Monty G. Marshall
  • Publication Date: 10-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: A public debate over the threat posed by weak, fragile, failing, and failed states and what can or should be done about them has become increasing visible and vocal since the attacks of September 11, 2001. As President George W. Bush declared in his 2002 National Security Strategy report: “America is now threatened less by conquering states than ... by failing ones.” This debate has grown particularly acute as the United States' prolonged military response to the war on global terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq has revealed the difficulties of controlling militancy and extremism by direct military intervention and enforced democratic change. The challenges associated with weak or failing states have garnered increase d attention by the policy community, but major differences about how to assess the level of risk in any given case remain.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, International Relations, Foreign Policy, Political Violence, Development, Diplomacy, Government, International Security
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, America
  • Author: Barnett Rubin
  • Publication Date: 03-2006
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and all that followed, Afghans and the handful of internationals working on Afghanistan could hardly have imagined being fortunate enough to confront today's problems. The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 providing for the “reestablishment of permanent government institutions” in Afghanistan was fully completed with the adoption of a constitution in January 2004, the election of President Hamid Karzai in October 2004, and the formation of the National Assembly in December 2005.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Asia
  • Author: William L. Nash, Brent Scowcroft, Samuel R. Berger
  • Publication Date: 09-2005
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: From Mogadishu to Mosul, the United States has undertaken six major nation-building operations around the world since 1993. The challenges of terrorism, failed states, and proliferation indicate this trend will only continue. Today, in Iraq, the United States carries the bulk of the nation-building burden. Some 135,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground, at an approximate cost of $50 billion per year. Nearly four years after forcing out the Taliban in Afghanistan, 9,000 NATO forces and 17,000 U.S. troops remain in that country to secure the peace and continue the hunt for al-Qaeda.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, International Security
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Iraq, Taliban
  • Author: Barnett Rubin
  • Publication Date: 10-1998
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: On August 8, 1998, the Taliban (Islamic student) movement of Afghanistan took control of Mazar-i Sharif, the last city remaining outside their control. 2 In their campaign in northern Afghanistan, the Taliban succeeded in gaining control of nearly all the parts of the country's territory that had remained outside their power since they marched into Kabul on September 26, 1996. Just as the Taliban prepared to campaign for international diplomatic recognition, however, the United States on August 20, 1998, launched a cruise missile attack against camps in Afghanistan that it charged contained the terrorist infrastructure of a movement led by Osama bin Laden, the wealthy Saudi exile. The United States claimed to have strong evidence implicating bin Laden and his network of exiled Islamists in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7. The United States also raided a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, said to be manufacturing precursors of chemical weapons substances. The Taliban's continued defense of bin Laden and their denunciation of the U.S. raid ruled out any dialogue between the Taliban and the United States that perhaps would lead to U.S. diplomatic recognition and construction of oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan. The Taliban's behavior complicated their relations with regional states as well. Saudi Arabia, one of only three states that recognized the Taliban's government, expelled their diplomatic representative on September 22 in reprisal for the Taliban's continued harboring of Osama bin Laden. Most dramatically, the Taliban's killing of nine Iranian diplomats during their takeover of Mazar-i Sharif has led to an extended confrontation with Tehran. War, or at least military action, cannot be ruled out. During the more than 20 years since the “Sawr Revolution” of April 27, 1978, brought a communist party to power, Afghanistan had moved from one stage to another of civil war and political disintegration, without seeming to get any closer toward peace, political order, or sustainable development. The combination of an inimical regional environment, characterized by unstable strategic and economic competition, with the destruction of much of the country's elites, institutions, and infrastructure, has assured the continuation of war among forces based in different regions of the divided country. The victory of the Taliban may put an end to open warfare, but it is likely to result in continued guerrilla or commando activities. The emergence of an assertive Islamic traditionalism in the form of the Taliban has also placed new obstacles in the way of international humanitarian and peacemaking programs. 3 The division of control over the country had remained relatively stable since the summer of 1997. The Taliban movement, originally based in the southern city of Qandahar, the heartland of Pashtun traditionalism and the homeland of Afghanistan's old royal clan, had conquered the Persian-speaking city of Herat, near the Iranian border, in September 1995. A year later, in September 1996, the Taliban swept into the eastern Pashtun city of Jalalabad and Afghanistan's capital city, Kabul, driving out the Tajik-dominated government of the “Islamic State of Afghanistan” that was led by President Burhanuddin Rabbani and Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud. At the end of May 1997, the Taliban took advantage of divisions within the mainly Uzbek National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (NIMA) to take temporary control of Mazar-i Sharif. This northern city on the border of Uzbekistan was the only major urban center still not controlled by them. The Shia in the city, however, mostly from the Hazara ethnic group, resisted the Taliban attempt to disarm them and drove the conquerors out in bloody battles that killed thousands and may also have led to the subsequent massacre of prisoners. A Taliban attempt to recapture Mazar-i Sharif in September 1997 also failed, largely because of a major resupply effort mounted by Iran. While the Taliban failed in their first two attempts to control the entire North from this urban center, they managed to establish a long-term presence in the area. They gained the support of many of the ethnic Pashtuns who had been settled in the North by the Afghan monarchy and established a political and military base in Kunduz, which was supplied by air from Kabul and, according to some reports, Pakistan. Despite intermittent activity on several front lines (north of Kabul, around Kunduz, northeast of Herat, on the borders of Hazarajat), the lines of control remained relatively stable until the Taliban's new offensive in July 1998. 4 The Taliban have constituted a governmental structure that they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Da Afghanistano Islami Amarat). Before the summer 1998 offensive, they controlled the entire Pashtun belt, from Jalalabad in the East, through Qandahar in the South, and on through the Southwest. They also controlled the ethnically mixed, primarily Persian-speaking cities of Herat and Kabul, which border on the Pashtun areas. Finally, they controlled a pocket of territory in the North centered around Kunduz. They thus controlled the highways connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran, and Turkmenistan, nearly all the Pakistani border, the entire Iranian border, and about half of the border with Turkmenistan. They also appeared to control part of the border with Tajikistan, including the port of Sher Khan Bandar. These areas included all the country's major customs posts except for Hairatan, north of Mazar-i Sharif, which the Taliban briefly held in May 1997. They also controlled the areas estimated to produce 90 percent of Afghanistan's opium poppies, the country's most profitable crop. Taxes on this crop are an important source of revenue for the Taliban, though they strictly prohibit its consumption. The United Nations estimates that Afghanistan and the surrounding region produce slightly more than half the world's supply of this drug. 5 The opposition to the Taliban, known generically as the “United Front,” consisted of several groups controlling different portions of the remaining parts of the country, which are largely inhabited by Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. After the main Taliban offensive, elements of these groups controlled only a few mountainous areas home to ethnic minorities: Badakhshan and the Panjsher Valley, inhabited by Tajiks, and the Hazarajat, home to the Shia Muslim Hazara ethnic group. Before the Taliban's July-August offensive, the opposition groups had controlled most of the northern tier of provinces from Faryab to Badakhshan (except for Kunduz) as well as the Hazarajat. They controlled the main highway leading to Uzbekistan and the railhead at Hairatan that connects to the former Soviet rail system with links to Asia and Europe. Hairatan is the only major customs post in their region. These territories included about half of Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan, the short but logistically and economically important border with Uzbekistan, nearly the entire border with Tajikistan, and a remote, mountainous, and largely inaccessible part of the border with Pakistan (including Pakistan-controlled Kashmir). Even before the offensive, the Taliban appeared to control at least two-thirds of Afghanistan's territory; their own estimates ranged as high as 85 percent. Much of that territory, however, was uninhabited desert, especially in the Southwest. The areas under Taliban control at that time included probably slightly more than half the country's population, which is currently estimated at nearly 24 million. 6 The two largest population centers then under Taliban rule, Herat and Kabul, were largely hostile to them, and the requirements of controlling these areas probably make them more of a drain on Taliban personnel than a source of recruits. These market centers provided significant income, however. The Taliban's main advantage was that they controlled the territory and population in the regions they ruled through a unitary structure, while the opposition remained split and riven by feuds. The opposition was divided into several groups, and each group was further divided into feuding factions. Furthermore, both sides depended to a great extent (though precise data are lacking) on foreign military, technical, and financial assistance. The Taliban are supported and were to some extent organized by Pakistan, with financial support from both official and unofficial sources in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states, while the northern groups have received aid from Iran, Russia, and, to a lesser extent, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The Taliban thus controlled the borders and highways leading not only to their own main supporter, Pakistan, but also to the opposition's main supporter, Iran. Supplying the Taliban was thus easier and less expensive than supplying the northern groups. By late August, the Taliban had control of virtually all the country's airfields except for two in Hazarajat. This effectively stopped aid to any other region. The regional competition results from the reconfiguration of the region after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Iran, Pakistan, and Russia are competing for control over the routes by which Central Asia's oil and gas resources will reach outside markets, which in turn will largely determine what power becomes predominant in the area. 7 The decision by India, followed by Pakistan, to test nuclear weapons has raised the stakes in the region and complicated peacemaking efforts. The independence of ethno-national states in Central Asia has given new prominence to ethnic identities, affecting co-ethnics across borders. And the increasing politicization of Islamic identity has increased the salience of Sunni/Shia sectarian differences. Perhaps the best-known fact about the Taliban is the restrictions they have imposed on women. These restrictions require that women be fully veiled, forbid them most education and employment, and impose strict limitations on their access to public services, including health care. The Taliban have also required men to grow full, untrimmed beards, cut their hair short, and attend mosque. They forbid any social mingling or communication among men and women outside the family. These rules (and others) have led to a series of confrontations with the representatives of the international community, largely the U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) present in Afghanistan. 8 Despite these rules, until the summer of 1998 these international organizations continued to work in Taliban areas; they did not work in most areas controlled by the northern groups. All agencies withdrew from Mazar-i Sharif after their offices, property, and storehouses (including food intended for destitute or famine-stricken areas) were thoroughly looted for the second time in September 1997 (they had been looted previously in May). The United Nations continued to work in Hazarajat, however. Western NGOs left Kabul in July 1998 when the Taliban refused to withdraw a requirement that all the NGOs move to the Polytechnic, a ruined Soviet-built campus in northern Kabul. More Westerners left in response to U.S. warnings about dangers to non-Muslim foreigners during the preparation for the August 20 raids. The Taliban resent the fact that although they have provided security for U.N. and NGO staff and property, the opposition, which has failed to do so, continues to be recognized as the government of Afghanistan by most countries and to occupy Afghanistan's U.N. seat. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Opposition to the Taliban's gender policies accounts for much of the resistance to either recognizing them or vacating Afghanistan's U.N. seat. Indeed, a significant movement has developed in Europe and North America in opposition to the Taliban's gender policies, and this movement, as much as the interest in gas and oil pipelines, has placed Afghanistan back on the international radar screen. The Taliban's harboring of bin Laden and his network provides yet another even more prominent reason.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, United States, Iran, Middle East, Taliban, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Barnett Rubin
  • Publication Date: 10-1998
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Mr. Chairman, thank you for this invitation, and thank you for your continuing work to focus attention on Afghanistan. I have brought a written submission for the record providing background information on recent events in Afghanistan. In my statement I will concentrate on policy challenges posed by Afghanistan to the United States and the international community.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, United States, Middle East