So easy and so much fun to blame Pakistan. Ptthththt! I was at an Atlantic Council of Canada event today on Afghanistan, where I presented the lessons for NATO (as derived from the Dave and Steve opus). Several of the speakers, including the Afghans as well as Chris Alexander, the former ambassador/UN special rep and now Conservative Minister, directed most of their fire towards Pakistan.
I get it and concur that Pakistan easily wins the Award for Worst Ally despite Israel's best efforts to get the US into yet another Mideast war. However, it is too easy to blame Pakistan for all of Afghanistan's troubles. Not all of the insurgents are born and bred in Pakistan. Many of the factors undermining the counter-insurgency campaign had to do with things other than the sanctuary on the other side of the board and the ISI's support for the Taliban and other folks. Some of these would be the constant changes in US/NATO strategy, under-resourcing the war, lack of coordination among the outsiders, Karzai, corruption, Karzai, and so on.
The question I did not get to ask (except on twitter) was this: will the next President of Afghanistan own the war? The current one sure as hell did not/has not. Much of the time, especially since the election of 2009 but even before, Karzai ran against the international community and the war in his country. It is easy to argue that he had to do this to win popular support, but I say feh to that. Feh. Given the powers he had at his command--to appoint/replace officials throughout the country all the way down to the district level, the flow of money through and around the government, and so on--Karzai could have tried to defend the war and stand beside the international community. That would have been brave, perhaps, but the international community for all its faults desperately needed a domestic ally to partner with in order to build support for the government of Afghanistan. And we lacked that partner.
Sure, we (the US) chose him, so the fault lies with the international community (especially the US). But we cannot and should not absolve anyone who had responsibility. NATO could have performed better. The US could have done far better (especially if it had not been distracted by Iraq). Pakistan could have done better, or at least, could have been less awful. And the government of Afghanistan, especially Karzai, could have done far better. The sad news is that the people of Afghanistan will pay the price for the mistakes of the aforementioned actors. How much of a price? We do not know yet because we don't know what 2015 will look like, even as there is progress on a bilateral deal to keep the US (and thus other folks) in the country for a while longer.