By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd May 12
The NATO summit in Chicago that concluded on Monday put the stamp of finality on a western withdrawal from Afghanistan by 31st Dec 2014, leaving security thereafter in the hands of Afghans. Starting next summer the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume the lead role in imposing security across the country, with western forces moving to a backup role. The question of who will pay the ANSF’s $4.1 billion annual tab remains unanswered for now.
Announcing the withdrawal of the 40-nation, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has overseen Afghanistan’s security since 2001, a joint communiqué stated on Monday, “ISAF’s mission will be concluded by the end of 2014. But thereafter Afghanistan will not stand alone.”
That generosity will last only for a decade; NATO says that Kabul must support its own forces by 2024. “Afghanistan’s yearly share (of the security budget) will increase progressively from at least US$500m in 2015, with the aim that it can assume, no later than 2024, full financial responsibility for its own security forces,” says the communiqué.
During the interim period, NATO’s support remains conditional on Kabul’s “commitment to a democratic society, based on the rule of law and good governance, including progress in the fight against corruption.” The western insistence on corruption-free governance has been a major irritant for President Hamid Karzai.
Turning the screws on Karzai, who must constitutionally step down as Afghanistan’s president after completing his second term in 2014, NATO leaders stated, “The forthcoming elections must be conducted with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and in accordance with the Afghan Constitution. Their transparency, inclusivity and credibility will also be of paramount importance. In this context, continued progress towards these goals will encourage ISAF nations to further provide their support up to and beyond 2014.”
So far, ISAF has functioned under a “peace-enforcement” mandate under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Now NATO will seek a fresh UN mandate for its new mission that would be confined to training, advice and assistance. The communiqué noted. “We will ensure that the new mission has a sound legal basis, such as a United Nations Security Council Resolution.
The joint communiqué papered over serious rifts within NATO. Newly-elected French president, Francois Hollande, insists on withdrawing French forces from Afghanistan by 2012, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to salvage NATO’s honour through a synchronised pullout. These divisions are being gleefully exploited by the Taliban, which registered its presence at Chicago with a 3-page statement urging NATO countries to follow France’s example.
The ANSF already has responsibility for security across half of Afghanistan, according to time lines that were mandated in the November 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon. In the first phase, which was completed in July 2011, the ANSF took charge of Kabul city, six smaller towns, and two of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. In the second phase that began last November, Afghan forces assumed responsibility for a much larger area: six provinces, seven cities and 40 rural districts. With the completion of the third phase, which President Karzai announced on 13th May, three quarters of Afghanistan will be under ANSF charge. But the most violent areas --- like southern Afghanistan, where Taliban influence is strongest --- are still controlled by western forces.
Despite “assuming security responsibility” for large swathes of Afghanistan, the ANSF remains incapable of operating independently. Western forces still provide crucial logistic support; medical facilities; air support and mentoring. Experts say it will take at least a couple of years for the ANSF to operate independently.
The biggest loser at Chicago was Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, who accepted a special invitation to Chicago but couldn’t get to meet his US counterpart. According to US press reports, President Barack Obama is believed to have made a meeting conditional on Islamabad agreeing to reopen American supply routes from Karachi Port to Afghanistan. Despite a meeting between Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Zardari, that deal was not closed.
At a press conference after the summit, US president Barack Obama acknowledged “tensions between ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan,” but pointed out that, “they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.”
Referring to the extremism and instability in that country, Obama declared that “it is in Pakistan’s interest to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism that is in their midst.”