U.S. political leaders, Democrats and Republicans alike, and our military commanders, have consistently argued that the conflict in Afghanistan will not end by military means alone. The elimination of al Qaeda’s safe havens and the establishment of long-term peace and security in Afghanistan and the region — the key U.S. national security objectives — is best assured by a sustainable political settlement that strengthens the Afghan state so that it can assume greater responsibility for addressing the country’s security and economic challenges.
This broad political settlement must include all elements of Afghan society — opposition groups, non-Taliban Pashtuns, ethnic and religious minorities, women, and civil society. Many of these groups are currently excluded by a government in Kabul that they rightly view as corrupt, closed, and unaccountable.
Efforts to reach a settlement should include an approach to Taliban elements that are ready to give up the fight and become part of the political process. Such an approach would not — as some have suggested — constitute “surrender” to America’s enemies. Rather, convincing combatants to leave the insurgency and enter into the political process is the hallmark of a successful counterinsurgency effort.