Lute, a retired 3-star army general who served in high-level national security positions in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, is known for his commitment to process and structure. While Khalilzad’s deep ties with Afghan leaders has made him the ultimate backchannel interlocutor for both Afghan and American officials.
Both have occupied influential roles in shaping the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and have dealt extensively with Pakistan in that context. The Pakistan Forum invited Lute and Khalilzad because of their unique and intimate exposure to the policy issues, but also because the two men often diverge in their opinions of Pakistan’s role in regional stability.
Lute managed the Afghanistan and Pakistan account at the White House for many years, including during 2010 – 2011, which was one of the most difficult periods for the relationship.
Even though he faced many tense conversations with the Pakistanis during those years, Lute recommended the US ought to understand Pakistan’s perspective and not engage solely in a superior-to-subordinate relationship, a debilitating dynamic that has persisted in recent years.
Khalilzad, on the other hand, believes the United States should implement a tougher policy to ensure the extermination of terrorist sanctuaries within Pakistani borders and strip the Pakistani intelligence service of personnel who that may support terrorist groups. His view is one that is strongly echoed in Kabul by Afghans and Americans alike who have observed Pakistan as having an unhelpful role in Afghanistan’s domestic security.
Lute and Khalilzad appear to be at odds with one another, but their engagement highlights one of the most challenging questions of U.S.-Pakistan relations since the September 11th attacks:
Can the United States understand Pakistan’s perspective, cooperate with it, and treat it like an equal partner when there are still terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistani soil that threaten Afghanistan and NATO troops?
That this remains just as much a question today as it was during the Bush and Obama administrations should come as a surprise to no one.
The challenge has been hard to decipher because while Pakistan facilitates certain parts of the American presence in Afghanistan, it also views the Afghan Taliban as a strategically important ally in Afghanistan and a hedge to Indian influence in the region.
The Trump administration’s South Asia strategy shares very little towards how it plans to address this policy dissonance. As the United States enters the 18th year of the war in Afghanistan this fall, it would appear that a more detailed strategy should be in the offing.
In the meantime – as we wait – the Taliban are reportedly openly active in 70% of Afghanistan.
Watch the conversation between Lute and Khalilzad below:
D.C. based writer, foreign policy analyst, photographer, and former White House and U.S. State Department staffer and Afghanistan and Pakistan junkie now recovering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies