As the Donald Trump administration has reviewed its plans to manage the war in Afghanistan, the question of troop levels has dominated discussions of U.S. policy. Washington is on track to modestly increase the number of military personnel deployed to Afghanistan, a stop-gap measure indicating that the United States’ presence in the country is unlikely to end soon. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, to whom the president has delegated decisionmaking on the Afghan war, has promised a new strategy by the end of July.
If that strategy is to lead to progress in Afghanistan, the United States must rethink its approach to neighboring Pakistan, whose active and passive support for terrorist groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network undermines Afghanistan’s stability. Whether one believes—as many do—that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is directly funneling weapons and money to these groups, it is clear that the Taliban is better equipped, funded and more operationally efficient today than ever before and that senior Pakistani military leaders are well versed in how to support such groups covertly. Evidence of the ISI’s direct support for the militants is thin, but it is through the ISI that these groups, which have targeted American, Afghan, and coalition forces, survive and operate.
The United States has given Pakistan billions of dollars in military and civilian aid despite this duplicity, ostensibly in exchange for Pakistan’s cooperation on counterterrorism and its support for U.S. operations in Afghanistan (neither of which Pakistan has fully delivered). Out of fear of losing this cooperation and American access to transportation routes into Afghanistan, Washington has kept up its support, enabling the Pakistani officials in charge of their country’s double game in Afghanistan and indirectly funding Islamabad’s support for militants.
The United States should offer to reward Pakistan if it pursues the insurgent groups.