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Secretary Panetta, Afghanistan needs a peace settlement, not more war

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan, where US policy has been mostly military. Washington continues to view Afghanistan through the lens of war when it most needs peace – a negotiated settlement with insurgents and neighboring states like India and Pakistan.

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The Afghan government and NATO leaders have endorsed the goal of a negotiated peace with the Taliban and other insurgent groups, but attempts to begin the peace process have faced major obstacles and setbacks. Convincing the parties involved to reach a political settlement will require a major push and much greater focus from the United States and its international partners, including Pakistan.

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Recent reports by the International Crisis Group and the RAND Corporation recommend the creation of a high-level UN-led mediation team to work with the Afghan parties and neighboring states to facilitate a comprehensive multifaceted peace process. The negotiations should seek an agreement between insurgents and the Afghan government and a diplomatic compact among neighboring states.

This will require cooperation especially from Pakistan, where the Haqqani network and other insurgent groups receive sanctuary and support, and also from India. Mr. Panetta is right to encourage greater Indian engagement in Afghanistan, but this should be done in partnership with Pakistan and other neighboring states.

Engaging insurgent groups would attempt to create more inclusive and accountable governance within Afghanistan. Involving surrounding states would be aimed at seeking pledges of noninterference and support for stabilization.

Admittedly the challenges in negotiating a peace settlement in Afghanistan are huge. The Taliban and other insurgent groups initially favored peace talks, but recently walked away from the process, demanding that US officials fulfill earlier promises to release an initial group of former insurgents from Guantánamo.

But many of the obstacles to a negotiated peace agreement could be reduced if the US were to apply to peace even a portion of the resources it now devotes to war. For that, America’s political leaders will need to put aside overused military means and pick up the tools of diplomacy and peacemaking.

David Cortright is the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.


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