The Afghanistan Conference Is There a Way Out of the 'Graveyard of Empires'?

At the Afghanistan conference in London this week, NATO partners want to develop a common exit strategy. But how can they succeed? Even the most important actors in the conflict disagree on possible solutions for one of the world's most dangerous regions.

German troops have been based in Afghanistan for over eight years.

German troops have been based in Afghanistan for over eight years.


Shortly before the London conference on Afghanistan, which takes place on Thursday, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai met in Istanbul. The Pakistani and Afghan presidents are the key players in this part of the world. And they have a lot in common. At the moment, both are quite weak and are being put under enormous pressure from America to talk less and do more.

Pakistan's constitutional court is demanding that Zardari return part of the assets that he illegally expropriated in Pakistan and has since bunkered in Switzerland. The Obama administration, for its part, is slowly losing patience with Zardari because he has proven unable to rein in his ISI intelligence agency. Suspicions that the ISI is hiding Taliban leaders are widespread -- and Zardari's own game that he plays with the ISI primarily serves the interests of a Pakistani elite that has traditionally sought to exert influence over Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai has notoriously accused the Pakistanis of playing a double game, and it's difficult to contradict him. At the same time, he has also fallen out of favor with his patrons. He has proven himself to be either incapable or unwilling to take leadership of his country beyond Kabul -- though even were he willing, the task would be Herculean.

Photo Gallery

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Photo Gallery: 'We Have to Eat, Drink and Die with the Afghans'

The meeting between the two weakened presidents underscores precisely what needs to be addressed in London: a strategy that will lead to at least a little bit of stability for the two countries. No one still believes that the maximum is still achievable. But this part of the world is one of the most dangerous, and one should not abandon hope of achieving the maximum.

There are as many objections as there are proposals. There are differing degrees of pessimism and many secretly wish that they could leave the "Graveyard of Empires," as Afghanistan has been called, as soon as possible. Even greater than the desire for an exit strategy, though, is the nightmare of what Afghanistan and Pakistan could become if America and NATO make too many mistakes there or simply withdraw too soon.

Many intelligent people have said things about Afghanistan and Pakistan recently -- and some comments have been smarter than others.

An overview of eight leading characters in the Afghanistan shows that there are few options and many and many objections against just about every strategy.


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