Bin Laden's Death May Speed Afghan War Settlement

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Osama bin Laden's death has changed the political situation in Afghanistan, according to Vali Nasr, a recent senior adviser to the State Department. He tells Steve Inskeep there's a great deal of possibility, both within the U.S. and in Afghanistan, to think about how to end the war more quickly through some form of a political settlement.


And let's follow up now on the death of Osama bin Laden. His killing in Pakistan has some analysts thinking about the future of the war in nearby Afghanistan. President Obama has said he intends to maintain his strategy there. That strategy calls for U.S. withdrawal to begin this year, though troop levels could remain high for quite some time.

Vali Nasr sees an opportunity, now, to wind down the war. Nasr is author of several books on the Muslim world, and served until recently as the State Department advisor.

Is the situation in Afghanistan significantly different than it was 10 days ago?

Dr. VALI NASR (Former Senior Advisor, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, State Department): The military situation is probably not significantly different than it was 10 days ago. The political situation is significantly different than it was 10 days ago.

INSKEEP: How so?

Dr. NASR: Largely because the death of Osama bin Laden opens a great deal of possibility, both within the United States and in Afghanistan, to think about how to end this war more quickly through some form of a political settlement.

Afghanistan is now much more of a local civil war than a global strategic war for the United States. And civil wars ultimately can be resolved much more through political settlements between the protagonists in the field. And if the international community no longer has as big a dog in that fight as it did before, it could create room for the local settlement.

INSKEEP: Is there still a fundamental problem, though, for the United States, because we collectively have made a huge commitment to Afghanistan? U.S. troops have been there for almost a decade and it might not be something that you can easily walk away from even if you conclude that your interests don't really lie there anymore.

Mr. NASR: Absolutely. Winding down the war both militarily and politically and diplomatically is not an easy task. We cannot just turn around and leave. However, because the reason for the war is now largely resolved in our mind, if we are close to seeing that mission accomplished, it is much easier for us to say that we need to change the momentum from sustaining the war to ending the war.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure that we're on the same page as far as what the mission is because if I think over the last 10 years, you say get bin Laden...

Mr. NASR: Um-hum.

INSKEEP: But U.S. officials in two different administrations have given a variety of other reasons and rationales, saying things like: We want to establish democracy there, we want to make sure that it doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists again.

Mr. NASR: Um-hum.

INSKEEP: We want to protect Pakistan. Are all of those reasons no longer relevant here?

Mr. NASR: No, all of those reasons are relevant and all of them can be built into some form of a political settlement. But when this administration came in, the president was very clear that our objective was to dismantle, destroy, disrupt al-Qaida. And if the American people and the American administration see that we have taken a giant step in that direction, then we can see that all of those other issues can be encapsulated into a final settlement that everybody can live with.

INSKEEP: John Brennan, the president's national security advisor, indicated on this program last week that he thought Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two of al-Qaida, was still somewhere around Afghanistan, Pakistan. There must still be quite a number of al-Qaida figures who are in that area.

Mr. NASR: I'm sure there are and there are also other terrorists' threats there that could potentially step into the void. All of these organizations have had ties to al-Qaida and they may have or already have global ambitions and they step into the breach. The fight against terrorism is not done, but the reason for this particular war now is by and large not as compelling as before bin Laden was killed.

INSKEEP: Could a solution involve the Taliban in power in Afghanistan or in power over part of Afghanistan?

Mr. NASR: It can involve Taliban being part of the political process in Afghanistan. And that has already been stipulated by the U.S. government. There are red lines and expectations that they need to lay down their weapons, they need to accept the Afghan constitution, and they need to break with terrorism completely. And then, you know, there is a power sharing discussion that they would have to have with the Karzai government as to how they entered the political process.

This is not going to be easy. This is not going to be snap negotiations. It may be quite lengthy and it may take some time before we arrive at an agreement and there may be many reversals along the way. But ultimately this is now the process that we can credibly pursue giving that bin Laden's gone.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you another question. You're saying that this is an opportunity to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly fashion. Is this an opportunity to walk away from Pakistan; say thanks very much guys, you've been a problematic ally, we're out of here.

Mr. NASR: No, I do not think we can walk away from Pakistan because the size of the country, its profile, a nuclear arms state with many different social, economic, and political problems inside of it means that the stability of Pakistan in the long run matters to the United States, even way after al-Qaida is gone.

INSKEEP: Vali Nasr, thanks very much.

Mr. NASR: Thank you.

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