Today, President Obama meets with Pakistan's President Zardari. Zardari is here to attend the memorial for the U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
Holbrooke is a clear reminder to us all not to let the job kill us, as I feel the stress of his nearly-impossible job was probably a major contributor to the ruptured aorta which killed him very quickly last month. He will be remembered fondly by all surviving Democratic leaders (Presidents and Secretaries of State) of the past century, for whom he was a willing, persistent, and successful diplomat. His crowning achievement was inducing Serbian President Milosevic to agree to a peace treaty ending the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina (a few bombing runs helped a lot, also, but the way Holbrooke used them to advance his diplomacy was a textbook example of good technique).
The topic of discussion clearly has to be what to do in the Af-Pak (or, as some suggest changing the billings to reflect importance Pak-Af) sub-region. I recently understood why NATO agreed to continue military operations until 2014: that is when Afghan President Karzai's current term ends. This will give us (the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, NATO, Iran, Russia....) more than 36 months to figure out an agreement that will allow the conflict to end, and develop a plan to keep the peace, through succession to a regime of reconciliation and reconstruction.
Zardari would be a very good person with whom to begin pushing this peanut forward. Pakistan's accord is a sine qua non for an agreement in Afghanistan, and it would be good to understand, in some detail, what that country's minimum requirements would be to respect the peace. A few basic agreed goals would then permit us to agree with the Pakistanis on the parameters for drone attacks in Pakistani territory. For example, attacks on positions probably holding high-level Al Qaeda would be agreed to in advance (no contact required in the instant), those on Pakistani Talibans would require agreement (which would probably be forthcoming), those on the Afghan Taliban shura would require confirmation of the presence of the exact persons targeted. This latter qualification might be required because some of the Afghan Taliban would be considered more likely to observe a peace agreement and thus would not be good targets for remote-controlled destruction.
Finally, there may be some need to coordinate on reconstruction projects (against the recent flood disaster in the Punjab), and some additional discussion on military aid and the restrictions thereupon (like not using them for their perennial facedowns with India).
Constructing a proper, sustainable agreement to end the decades-long, occasionally-interrupted Afghan Civil War (in which we have gotten rather deeply involved) is a slow slog; we probably have plenty of input from the current Afghan leaders, but not enough from Pakistan's, nor from those current opponents which Pakistan either shelters, tolerates, or just can't root out.