Independent Task Force Conditionally Supports U.S. Policy in Pakistan, Afghanistan, but Argues for Changing Strategy Absent Progress

Independent Task Force Conditionally Supports U.S. Policy in Pakistan, Afghanistan, but Argues for Changing Strategy Absent Progress

November 11, 2010 4:36 pm (EST)

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Ahead of President Obama’s December review of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)-sponsored Independent Task Force report on U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan finds that the current approach to the region is at a critical point. “We are mindful of the real threat we face. But we are also aware of the costs of the present strategy. We cannot accept these costs unless the strategy begins to show signs of progress,” says the Task Force.

While the Task Force offers a qualified endorsement of the current U.S. effort in Afghanistan, including plans to begin a conditions-based military drawdown in July 2011, the Obama administration’s upcoming December 2010 review should be “a clear-eyed assessment of whether there is sufficient overall progress to conclude that the strategy is working.” If not, the report argues that “a more significant drawdown to a narrower military mission would be warranted.”

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The Task Force, chaired by former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage and former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger, and directed by CFR Senior Fellow Daniel S. Markey, notes that nine years into the Afghan war, the outcome of the struggles in the region are still uncertain and the stakes are high. “What happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan matters to Americans,” affirms the report. It warns that “militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a direct threat to the United States and its allies. They jeopardize the stability of Pakistan, a nuclear power that lives in an uneasy peace with its rival, India.”

The Task Force supports the U.S. investment in a long-term partnership with Pakistan, but underscores that it is only sustainable if Pakistan takes action against all terrorist organizations based on its soil. Concrete Pakistani actions against terror groups “are the bedrock requirements for U.S. partnership and assistance over the long run.” In Pakistan, “the United States aims to degrade and defeat the terrorist groups that threaten U.S. interests from its territory and to prevent turmoil that would imperil the Pakistani state and risk the security of Pakistan’s nuclear program.”

The Task Force notes that these goals are best achieved through partnership with a stable Pakistani state, but that “the challenge of fighting regional terrorist networks is compounded by the fact that Pakistan draws distinctions between such groups.” Flood-ravaged Pakistan also faces “enormous new stresses on the state—already challenged by political, economic, and security problems—increasing disaffection among its people, and weakening its ability to fight extremists in its territory.”

In Afghanistan, “the United States seeks to prevent the country from becoming a base for terrorist groups that target the United States and its allies and to diminish the potential that Afghanistan reverts to civil war, which would destabilize the region.” Afghanistan faces the challenges of “pervasive corruption that breeds the insurgency; weak governance that creates a vacuum; Taliban resilience that feeds an atmosphere of intimidation; and an erratic leader whose agenda may not be the same as that of the United States.”

The report’s recommendations include:

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-“To further enhance Pakistan’s stability, the United States should maintain current levels of economic and technical assistance to help military and civilian leaders reconstruct and establish control over areas hard-hit by the flood, including those contested by militant forces.” The Task Force recommends “continued and expanded training, equipment, and facilities for police, paramilitaries, and the army.”

-“To reinforce U.S.-Pakistan ties and contribute to Pakistan’s economic stability in the aftermath of an overwhelming natural disaster, the Obama administration should prioritize—and the Congress should enact—an agreement that would grant preferential market access to Pakistani textiles.”

-“As it cultivates a closer partnership with Islamabad...the United States still needs to seek a shift in Pakistani strategic calculations about the use of militancy as a foreign policy tool. Washington should continue to make clear to Islamabad that at a basic level, U.S. partnership and assistance depend upon action against LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, and related international terror groups.”


-“In Afghanistan, core American security aims can best be achieved at a lower cost if the United States manages to shift a greater burden to Afghan partners,” explains the Task Force. “The United States should encourage an initiative with three complementary elements: political reform, national reconciliation, and regional diplomacy.”

-“Political reforms should aim to grant a greater voice to a broader range of Afghan interests,” states the Task Force. “Rather than leaving the reconciliation process to [Afghan] President Karzai and his narrow support base, Washington should participate fully in guiding a broad-based, inclusive process, bearing in mind that a rapid breakthrough at the negotiating table is unlikely. Afghan reform and reconciliation should then be supported by a regional diplomatic accord brokered by the United States.”

-“To foster Afghanistan’s viability as a security partner, the United States must continue to build cost-effective Afghan security forces appropriate to the capabilities necessary to protect the population. This will require more army and police trainers, as well as an expansion of community-based stabilization forces.”

-“Afghanistan needs a self-sustaining foundation for generating jobs and revenue that will reduce dependence on international assistance. To meet this need, the United States should encourage private sector investment in Afghanistan’s considerable mineral and energy resources, its agricultural sector, and in the infrastructure needed to expand trans-Afghan trade.”

The bipartisan Task Force includes two dozen distinguished experts on Pakistan and Afghanistan who represent a range of perspectives and backgrounds. The report concludes: “For now, the United States should assume the lead, with the goal of encouraging and enabling its Pakistani and Afghan partners to build a more secure future. Yet even the United States cannot afford to continue down this costly path unless the potential for enduring progress remains in sight. After nine years of U.S. war in the region, time and patience are understandably short.”

The report is available at:



Richard L. Armitage, Armitage International L.C.

Reza Aslan, University of California, Riverside

J. Brian Atwood, University of Minnesota

David W. Barno, Center for a New American Security

Samuel R. Berger, Albright Stonebridge Group

Karan K. Bhatia, General Electric Company

Marshall M. Bouton, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Steve Coll, New America Foundation

Joseph J. Collins, National War College

James F. Dobbins, RAND Corporation

C. Christine Fair, Georgetown University

John A. Gastright, DynCorp International

Robert L. Grenier, ERG Partners

John M. Keane, SCP Partners

Michael Krepon, Henry L. Stimson Center

Sloan C. Mann, Development Transformations

Daniel S. Markey, Council on Foreign Relations

John A. Nagl, Center for a New American Security

John D. Negroponte, McLarty Associates

Charles S. Robb, George Mason University

Teresita C. Schaffer, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Ashley J. Tellis, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

John W. Warner, Hogan Lovells

Andrew Wilder, United States Institute of Peace


The Council on Foreign Relations sponsors Independent Task Forces to assess issues of current and critical importance to U.S. foreign policy and provide policymakers with concrete judgments and recommendations. Diverse in backgrounds and perspectives, Task Force members aim to reach a meaningful consensus on policy through private and nonpartisan deliberations. Once launched, Task Forces are independent of CFR and solely responsible for the content of their reports. Task Force members are asked to join a consensus signifying that they endorse “the general policy thrust and judgments reached by the group, though not necessarily every finding and recommendation.” Task Force members also have the option of putting forward an additional or a dissenting view. Members’ affiliations are listed for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional endorsement. For more information about CFR Task Forces, contact program director Anya Schmemann at [email protected].

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher dedicated to being a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.


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