Kaplan on Afghanistan

When Robert Kaplan speaks, I listen. His NY Times op-ed (via Small Wars Journal) makes the case for taking Afghanistan seriously as a strategic priority, and committing the resources necessary for rebuilding it as a functioning state instead of just treating it as a manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Kaplan makes the good point that notwithstanding the shortsightenedness that the Indian-Pakistani rivalry often provokes, a stable Afghanistan is in everyone’s longterm interests.

. . .Even under a weak central government, Afghanistan could finally achieve economic salvation: the construction of a web of energy pipelines that have been envisioned for years connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean. These might run, for example, from the natural gas fields of Turkmenistan down through Afghanistan and into the dense population zones of Pakistan and India, with terminals at ports like Gwadar in Pakistani Baluchistan and Surat in the Indian state of Gujarat.

In other words, in Afghanistan we are not simply trying to save a country, but to give a whole region a new kind of prosperity and stability, united rather than divided by energy needs, that would be implicitly pro-American.

It’s a compelling argument for the importance of the goal. But unless we can bring everyone on board, I’m not convinced of how achievable it is. Kaplan seems to have an implicit faith in the ability of America to serve as the glue that might bind the region together, but for the moment the project appeals exclusively to the most prescient and foresightful elements of all the parties involved. But there are a considerable number of obstacles. The Taliban, Russia, and China all have reasons to maintain the status quo, as do the more shortsighted elements in Pakistan and India. The stakes are high, and the payoff large, but the odds still strike me as long.

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