October 31, 2006

Options for diplomacy in Afghanistan

It's always interesting to inquire a little further when the idea that there should be more Canadian diplomacy in Afghanistan is discussed, because diplomatic options appear fairly limited at the moment.

There's two kinds of diplomacy directly relevant to the Afghanistan situation: internal diplomacy, with the insurgent groups (ie the pro-Taliban Pashtun leadership); and external diplomacy, with other nations in the region: specifically Pakistan, because it's really the only country that matters in addressing the current Pashtun insurgency situation.

Now, Canada or NATO clearly can have no legitimate role in Afghanistan's internal diplomacy. At best any Western efforts to strike a deal without Karzai's involvement would only significantly undercut the elected government, the actual body empowered to have such discussions; at worst they would be completely futile. Canada and other third parties could conceivably use diplomacy to encourage the Karzai government to engage in peace talks, but right now Karzai needs no such convincing; it's the Taliban that reiterated this week that they would reject any attempts at negotiation, until NATO leaves. At this point, the Taliban apparently needs to be essentially bombed back to the negotiating table for anything to come of the internal negotiation approach.

The other party Canada could conceivably influence to fairly immediate effect would be Pakistan. The Musharraf government's Sept. 5 Waziristan Accord, with its live-and-let-live arrangement with the Pashtun leadership in their country, gives the Taliban a new ability to undercut the stability of eastern Afghanistan and the mostly American RC-East forces there... even in RC-South where the Canadians are operating, a likely upshot at this point is a probable lessening of the U.S. air and other military resources available in support through this winter and into next year.

NATO hasn't been putting the kind of pressure one would expect on Pakistan diplomatically, it's true. It's partly because its bargaining position isn't very good. Musharraf's domestic situation is tenuous... he isn't in a position to respond to any kind of Western bullying, because after him the deluge.

Perhaps the only real way to unlock this particular strategic logjam, from a diplomatic perspective, will be to look for concessions that are grantable to Musharraf, which would both bolster him at home and give him the maneuvering room to take stronger action in his border areas. Some options would include affirming the Durand Line (ie, encouraging the Karzai government to forego historic claims on Pakistani territory) or pressuring India to grant some concessions in the Kashmir dispute.

If that's the kind of diplomacy people are talking about with regard to Canada's participation in Afghanistan, it makes some sense. Otherwise it seems just hot air.

UPDATE: Of course, one suspects the real subtext one should apply whenever "diplomacy" is mentioned as an option for Canada refers more to our government exerting pressure on our allies to address other areas of Muslim grievance, specifically Iraq, Palestine, or the Guantanamo Gulag-lite. Not that this is at all a bad idea, but one has to concede the amount of "soft power" effort Canada can exert, on these issues even with our now significant military commitments to our alliance partners, remains fairly minimal (we have nothing to unilaterally offer Israel that could persuade it to change its West Bank position; nothing we can do is likely to get the Bush government to alter its "war on terror" course any faster, either), and relatively distal to Afghanistan's more immediate problems. Still, efforts of this sort if intended and understood as a counterweight to the Afghan situation, meant to assure Muslims both at home and abroad of Canadians' overall good faith in regards to the Islamic world, are certainly not wasted. They're just unlikely to bear fruit in any military operational sense before south Afghanistan starts to heat up again in four months or so.

Posted by BruceR at 04:19 PM