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Simon Shercliff
First Secretary, Washington

The Art of the Possible - Towards Afghanistan's Political Settlement

Posted 10 June 2010 by Simon Shercliff  
I have just spent a stimulating couple of days at a conference organised by CENTCOM, looking at "The Art of the Possible in Afghanistan and Pakistan". Experts debated and argued over every aspect of the current situation in both countries. Gatherings like this are always useful to check that we are not missing anything, as well as to develop new ideas.  
One of the issues which got plenty of air time was the development of a political settlement for Afghanistan, not least because the Consultative Peace Jirga, at which over a thousand representative Afghans discussed just this issue, had recently taken place in Kabul. 
On the military side, ISAF's COIN strategy is now pretty well developed, communicated, understood, and accepted inside Afghanistan, in countries of the region and internationally. And although the headlines have been grabbed by the Marjah and Kandahar elements, the strategy is being comprehensively implemented throughout Afghanistan. But there is plenty more uncertainty over the political strategy which needs to complement ISAF's work. Everyone agrees that we need to develop one, but there is little consensus on  what it should look like.
I imagine a political strategy for Afghanistan as defining the pathway to the future shape of a peaceful Afghanistan and its relationships with its neighbours and the wider world  - a political settlement. At the end of that pathway is a steady-state situation: an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbours, and robust enough to sustain its own economic and political stability, and repel the likes of Al Qaida from setting up shop there.
How do we do this? We need to understand and address the perceptions of Afghans. They are the ones who need  to  believe in themselves, their government and their future - they need reassurance on all those things. And they need reassurance that whatever settlement is eventually reached will survive. In parallel, we need to persuade the spoilers to stop spoiling. Reconciliation is often touted as the way to achieve all this. But reconciliation is not a strategy which will take us to the political settlement. It one of many tools that we must use to get there. It must play its part in a wider political strategy, including efforts to bolster good governance and representative government throughout Afghanistan.
As President Obama, General McChystal, NATO Secretary-General Rassmussen and several other senior politicians and officials have said, we should not expect results overnight - this is a long struggle. 

Simon Shercliff
10 June 2010

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A blog about the work of the British embassy in Washington.

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