The Pivot to Pakistan
By: Robert Lamb
A headline-grabbing massacre at an upscale restaurant in Kabul last week reminded Americans that the United States is still fighting a war in Afghanistan. Among the nearly two dozen people killed in that attack were 13 foreign officials, including three Americans, one of whom had been an intern at CSIS just five years ago. The attack was a stark reminder that there remain people in Afghanistan willing to give their lives in coordinated terrorist attacks.
Despite continuing challenges in Afghanistan, as the U.S. commitment there winds down, our priorities in the region most likely will quickly shift eastward: to Pakistan’s internal stability, to significant cross-border attacks between Pakistan and India, and to the India-China relationship. That is the conclusion of the CSIS C3 program’s forthcoming assessment of U.S. South Asia strategy over the coming decade.
Our conclusion about U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that an increase in violence there will be a concern to U.S. leaders only to the degree that it spills over into Pakistan or “seriously risks the return of a regime offering safe haven to al Qaeda or other terrorists.” The latter is unlikely, though not impossible. The effect on Pakistan’s stability, however, is a real concern and the most likely reason the United States would remain engaged in Afghanistan.
For the past 13 years, Afghanistan had its moment. This year, the United States pivots to Pakistan, where its focus will remain for at least the next 13 years.