As the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan draws closer, all eyes are on what deal both governments would strike over the future role of America in Afghanistan. In normal times, such a deal shouldn’t be difficult, but not now. The relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US administration are strained, and both are drifting apart every day, at a time when they should be agreeing on most of the points on how to stymie a resurgence of the Taliban after the US exit.
The talks on the future US-Afghan relationship are stuck on many key issues. After the US exit, will US forces be liable in Afghan courts for any crimes they might commit against Afghans? Will Washington promise to help protect Afghanistan from its neighbours? Will the US forces, if the situation so demands, be allowed by Kabul to strike at Al Qaeda affiliates in Afghanistan or Pakistan? As talks are held on all these points, what is unfortunate is that there has been more stalemate than agreement. A protracted and acrimonious negotiation process is not good for either country.
The disappointment is strong on either side. Washington has been recently very upset with Karzai over his policies and apparent enmity towards Washington, with some experts even arguing that Washington has no ally in Karzai. The Afghan president too has been venting his anger at Washington over many issues, including Washington’s efforts to enter into talks with the Taliban. But there is no reason those disagreements should degenerate to a level where going gets really tough: Kabul and Washington need each other in future as they need each other today. The US needs to make sure that the gains it has made in the battle against Taliban are not washed away once it leaves, for which a strong cooperation between the two countries needs to be put in place, and the Kabul government need to make sure that Taliban don’t overwhelm them on the battlegrounds once the US troops leave.
Both sides must be in a mood to make concessions. Karzai must shed his abrasive image while negotiating with the US and the latter needs to take into account the Afghan president’s sentiments while acting on Taliban.
Karzai will pose several challenges at home once the US troops leave next year. Taliban have vowed to retake their lost territories, which though a tall claim, cannot be written off. A little dithering or even small defeats can embolden the insurgent group. The morale of Afghan troops needs to be extraordinarily high to fight the Taliban and morale will only come from a strong leadership in Kabul. For the same reason, Karzai cannot afford to open several battlefronts at the same time•