Trump’s options in the Afghan-Pakistan divide

A map showing the Durand Line, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and areas where the Pashtun population in the region live
The Durand Line was the basis for the modern Afghanistan-Pakistan border, but it split the region’s Pashtun population in two (source: macpixxel for GIS)
  • The terrorist groups destabilizing Afghanistan are mostly Pashtun nationalists
  • Pakistan is supporting them, with help from China, to curb India’s rise
  • Long-term stability in Afghanistan will require a peace deal with the Pashtuns
  • A surge of U.S. troops could give the Afghans leverage in negotiations

To grasp the scale of the challenge facing the Afghan government, the United States and NATO in stabilizing Afghanistan, after thousands of deaths and almost a $1 trillion spent since 2001, it is worth considering some metrics: The government in Kabul controls only 60 percent of the country; 10 percent of the population (roughly 3 million Afghans) lives in terrorist-controlled areas; and 20 U.S.- or United Nations-designated terrorist organizations, out of a total of 98 globally, operate in the restive Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

The road to stabilizing Afghanistan is still a very long one. For Afghanistan and NATO, the key achievable objectives are to keep the terrorist threat in the country manageable and to prevent large swaths of territory from becoming ungovernable spaces that terrorists can use as a base of operations.

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