London: Western powers must change strategy to focus on the “containment” of Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan instead of on failed efforts at nation-building, a leading think-tank said Tuesday.
The attempt to restore order to Afghanistan was “hitting its political and military limits” as the war nears the start of its tenth year, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.
The need for a new policy is part of a wider picture left by the aftermath of the global financial crisis and by shifts in the balance of power, it said in its “Strategic Survey 2010” annual review of global security.
“It may become necessary and is probably advisable for outside powers to move to a containment and deterrence policy to deal with the international terrorist threat from the Afghan-Pakistan border regions,” the report said.
“The future clearly lay in negotiations with or among the participants in the conflict,” it said, adding that “many worry that the large presence of foreign troops is what sustains and fuels the Taliban fighters.”
President Barack Obama has recently appeared to step back from a pledge that US forces would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011. He has already deployed 30,000 extra troops as part of a new counter-insurgency strategy.
But the IISS said it had become “increasingly questionable” whether objectives such as beating back the Taliban, building an Afghan government and security forces and eliminating corruption could be achieved.
The mounting death toll of foreign troops — nearly 500 in 2010 alone — was feeding doubts in most of the countries contributing to the 150,000-strong international force in Afghanistan, it added.
Drawing down troops too quickly could cause an “implosion of Afghanistan”, the report said, but to persist with the current mission “risks being carried forward by outdated thinking into a long drawn-out disaster.”
It said the West had to work out a strategy for Pakistan, which was taking a long-term view to when there was no foreign presence in the region and had “stoutly resisted” pressure to act against militants on its soil who are responsible for violence in Afghanistan.
A new world order was emerging meanwhile from the debris of the 2008 global financial crisis, with the United States at risk of “strategic fatigue” and other powers jostling for influence, the IISS report said.
It pointed to a group of “newly energised middle powers” including Turkey, Brazil, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates that were trying to extend their clout in their regions.
“With economies and nerves frayed, and the nationalisation of foreign policy all the rage, the appetite for very ambitious collective long-term political-military goals is limited in the West,” the report said.
Turkey and Brazil made efforts to become involved in Iran’s stand-off with Western nations over its nuclear goals, while South Korea and the United Arab Emirates were involved with North Korea and Iran respectively, it said.
Australia, Indonesia and South Korea were increasingly interested in multilateral consultation and “may in time become a diplomatic force to be reckoned with” against the “relentless” expansion of Chinese power.
China and India both continued to grow in self-confidence, though their rise as world powers was slowed by their “diffidence” in shaping the international agenda as they defended their own core interests, the report said.
The Asian giants were more interested in each other and were “sometimes brought into uncomfortable strategic contact along their own border”, particularly in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, it said.
China’s confidence was bolstered by riding out the financial crisis more quickly than other countries, though Beijing faced growing expectations to play a role in addressing world challenges.
“How to balance these global expectations with its own national priorities was likely to be an increasingly tricky problem for Beijing in the years to come,” the report said.