The day after

US President Barack Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan involves a surge in US troop deployment, even as it lays out a time-table for withdrawal of troops from the war-ravaged country. It promises an additional deployment of 30,000 soldiers beginning early next year. With this US troop strength in Afghanistan will touch 1,00,000. While this aspect of the new strategy signals a step-up in US commitment to stabilising the situation in Afghanistan, the other component ie the July 2011 deadline when American troops will begin pullout suggests that it is aimed at an early exit, a desire not to get mired in a Vietnam-like situation. The next 18 months will be critical for the success of the strategy as the US will have to go after Taliban/al-Qaeda fighters and their safe havens even as they build Afghan troops to takeover security duties fully. The Obama administration will be hoping that just as Bush’s surge and exit strategy worked in stemming violence in Iraq, the strategy will work in Afghanistan too. Obama’s strategy recognises the importance of Pakistan’s full co-operation in the fight against terrorism to achieving objectives in Afghanistan. Obama has acknowledged that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are in danger from the Taliban/al-Qaeda.

While Obama’s promised surge in Afghanistan will be welcomed by many with the short timeframe envisaged sending alarm bells ringing in the region. There is concern that Afghanistan-Pakistan are unlikely to stabilise within 18 months. It raises questions whether the Americans are more interested in finding an exit route rather than a way to improve the security situation. Are the Americans then looking for a way to cut and run? There is concern that the Taliban/al-Qaeda will choose to melt away now to conserve their assets and return to fight after the Americans have withdrawn. Some are raising a worrying but important question. What will happen the day after? Why should they fight the Taliban now if 18 months from now they will return to become their new masters?
The situation in Afghanistan can improve only if the international community pulls together. Currently it is the US that is bearing the main load in the military operations while its NATO allies look for exit options. India is contributing in a big way in reconstruction, while other donors fall short on pledges. And Pakistan will have to fight terrorism of all kinds and shades for Afghanistan to stabilise.

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