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Transition 2012

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Tracking the Issues: Brookings on Afghanistan and Pakistan

by Newsteam Staff
February 16, 2012

Homeless men sleep along a street on a snowy day in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2012. Homeless men sleep along a street on a snowy day in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2012. (Omar Sobhani/Courtesy Reuters)


As part of their series on 12 campaign issues facing the next president, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion Wednesday examining the foreign policy challenges posed by Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here are some highlights from remarks by Brookings fellows:

Michael O’Hanlon said three things continue to plague the country: that the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan turned out to be greater than initially expected; Pakistan is exacerbating the situation by providing sanctuary to insurgents; and the Afghan government has had legitimacy and capability problems.

Elizabeth Ferris said the humanitarian situation is already bad. She notes that many of some six million exiles return from Iran and Pakistan have become internally displaced, which leads to instability. If the signs aren’t good now with international assistance, she asked, what will the country look like when the Afghan government has to take over?

Vanda Felbab-Brown said that 2014 will be like a “massive triple earthquake” in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a contested political situation, and significant loss of income. She said much of the foreign aid is wasted, and some is even harmful. She suggests investing only in secure areas that can be monitored, and switching from short-term political handouts to sustainable long-term economic investments.

Bruce Riedel argues that the United States will need to have a relationship with Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Riedel said that this relationship needs to be better communicated during the 2012 campaign. He also said the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is broken: Pakistanis think the United States is arrogant, using it as little more than a killing ground for drones; and the United States thinks Pakistan is duplicitous, likely complicit in hiding Osama bin Laden. “The problem is,” he said, “both sides are right.”

Check out the latest CFR Issue Tracker for information about candidates’ positions on Afghanistan.

Suggested Other Reading:

This CFR Analysis Brief describes what’s at stake and the policy options regarding the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.

This CFR Interactive looks at the ten-year war in Afghanistan.

Foreign Policy’s Arif Rafiq says civil war in Afghanistan isn’t inevitable, but is more likely than ever before, and proposes ways to avoid it.

– Contributing Editor Liriel Higa

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