Task Force Calls for Comprehensive New Afghanistan-Pakistan Strategy

New York, April 2, 2009—An Asia Society task force report released today recommends a comprehensive reformulation of US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan amidst rapidly deteriorating conditions in both countries. The report argues that much of the effort in Afghanistan over recent years has been strategically unfocused and often counter-productive. Incremental changes alone, such as more troops or more aid, cannot address the monumental challenge the US faces in the region. The US must focus on isolating and defeating Al Qaeda and eliminating their sanctuaries in the region by providing security for the Afghan population, providing for the long-term stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and encouraging regional cooperation in support of the above goals.

Back from the Brink? A Strategy for Stabilizing Afghanistan-Pakistan was co-chaired by former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Dr. Barnett Rubin, one of the foremost experts on Afghanistan. Other notable task force members included former Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann, as well as Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, Ahmed Rashid, Peter Bergen, and Rory Stewart. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former Chairman of the Asia Society and current Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan, as well as National Security Adviser General James Jones were also members of the task force but stepped down to assume their new appointments before the first draft of the report was completed.

“This report is an unprecedented call for dramatic policy changes, both in terms of the caliber of its authors and the scope of their recommendations. As the new US administration and the UN—really, the world—look for answers for this region, this task force provides a bold new vision for the way forward,” said Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai.

The task force acknowledges that American interests and objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus remain critically important to US security and addressing the threat of al-Qaida and its allies, but emphasizes that policy must be grounded in a realistic understanding of what is achievable. To achieve lasting stability, US strategy in the region must integrate counterterrorism, governance, economic development, and regional objectives.

The report includes the following recommendations:

  • “Explicitly end the rhetorical emphasis on the “war on terror” and define our enemy as those who attacked our nation—al-Qaida and its allies.”
  • “End Operation Enduring Freedom, the counter-terrorism command in Afghanistan, because al-Qaida’s sanctuary is now in Pakistan, not Afghanistan and integrate all troops an operations under a single NATO-ISAF command.”
  • “Begin negotiations on a Status of Forces Agreement to be concluded after the next round of elections.”
  • “Separate funding for Afghanistan, including for security forces, from Iraq.”
  • “Engage with the Afghan government and the United Nations to ensure an accepted and legitimate constitutional transition of presidential power and a more effective government.”
  • “Transfer assistance to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and security duties to official institutions, Afghan and international, as soon as possible, consistent with transparency and fiduciary oversight.”
  • “Combat narcotics by…taking a gradual [yet systemic] approach to this huge industry, rather than artificially trying to make economic transformation a quick-fix counterinsurgency strategy.”
  • “Support efforts in Pakistan…to integrate FATA into the mainstream of Pakistan and create conditions under which Pakistan can take direct responsibility for the security of its borders, and Afghanistan can recognize them as open borders.”
  • "Focus regional policy on creating conditions for the transformation of Pakistan’s security doctrine so that it no longer requires the use of covertly supported guerrilla forces against neighbors.”
  • “Establish regular dialogue and exchanges over Afghanistan and Pakistan with Russia, China, India, Iran, Turkey, the Central Asian states, and Saudi Arabia.”


Full version of the report and executive summary are available here.

Task Force Members


Ambassador Thomas Pickering
Vice Chairman, Hills & Company

Dr. Barnett Rubin
Director of Studies and Senior Fellow
Center for International Cooperation, NYU

Project Director

Dr. Jamie F. Metzl
Executive Vice President, Asia Society


Mr. Peter Bergen
Schwartz Senior Fellow
New America Foundation

Dr. Vishakha N. Desai
President, Asia Society

Mr. Thomas E. Freston
Principal, Firefly3
and Asia Society Trustee

Ambassador Karl F. Inderfurth
John O. Rankin Professor
Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University

Ms. Ellen Laipson
President and Chief Executive Officer, Henry L. Stimson Center

Ms. Clare Lockhart
Co-founder and Director
Institute for State Effectiveness

Dr. M. Ishaq Nadiri
Jay Gould Professor of Economics
New York University

Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann
President, American Academy of Diplomacy

Mr. Ahmed Rashid
Pakistani Journalist and Author

Ambassador Teresita Schaffer
Director, South Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Mr. Rory Stewart
Executive Director
Turquoise Mountain Foundation

The Asia Society is an international organization dedicated to strengthening relationships and deepening understanding among the peoples of Asia and the United States. We seek to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts, and culture.

Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, the Society reaches audiences around the world through its headquarters in New York and regional centers in Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, and Shanghai.The Asia Society is supported by contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Asia Society is on the Web at www.asiasociety.org.

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Contact: Deanna Lee, 212-327-9271