The mood engulfing much of the Western world involved in the Afghanistan conflict was all too evident at the two-day Nato Summit that concluded in Chicago on Monday. The US President, Barack Obama, hosted the event as one of his last foreign policy gatherings before this year’s presidential election.
Seated too at the table was Francois Hollande, whose opposition to keeping the French troops deployed in the Afghan war, earned him the French presidency. More importantly, his threat of withdrawing French troops from Afghanistan earlier than expected, may have given an impetus to the global push for ending the Western world’s involvement in a conflict where an outright victory seems increasingly uncertain.
Driven by significant economic woes, which have badly sapped in to their ability to sustain the war in Afghanistan, members of the Nato alliance drew a final timeline to withdraw their troops by 2014, following a planned transfer of lead duties to Afghan troops next year.
To some, the plan seems like an emerging success story. Just over a decade after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks forced out the Taliban regime from power, the ability of the hardline movement to take charge of the country seems increasingly unlikely. And yet, that may be just part of the story.
The global community is once again faced with the risk of abandoning Afghanistan just as it did after the withdrawal of the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Perhaps, a shade of difference between the two situations may well be that following the upcoming withdrawal of Western troops, the US will likely retain a smaller number of military advisers and special forces to support the newly established Afghan army and the Afghan security force. But that alone will just not help to begin rebuilding Afghanistan in a way that the danger of recurring conflict will end permanently.
For the moment, the gap in supporting Afghanistan to a qualitatively new and better future lies not only around the need to generously fund its emerging military infrastructure. More vitally is the need to build up a robust civil society through a large-scale global effort to provide substantial resources of the kind not done before. Eventually, the hope for the future of a new Afghanistan will come from the country’s younger generation, who appear to have been neglected for years.
Afghanistan’s three decades of conflict, which began with the 1979 invasion by the former Soviet Union, has displaced not just vast numbers of people. More vital to the future of Afghanistan has been the displacement of large numbers of younger people, who now find themselves just unable to contribute to the future of their country.
At the Nato Summit, a point of disappointment for Afghanistan was indeed the failure of the global community to commit more than $4 billion required annually to sustain the upcoming Afghan army and related security infrastructure.
Indeed, Afghanistan needs vast amounts of global financial assistance to keep up the military pressure against the militants - a necessary prerequisite to prevent the country from slipping back into the hands of hardliners. However, more troubling is a virtual absence of what should have been a robust global dialogue to discuss and debate ways of reviving Afghanistan’s future economic prospects.
Lessons from Afghanistan’s past serve well to illustrate the country’s journey from becoming ravaged under the war unleashed by the former Soviet Union, to become an eventual facilitator of the global terrorist framework brought to Afghanistan by Al-Qaeda.
Any future endeavour that misses the all too vital need for Afghanistan’s economic rehabilitation will simply miss out on a fundamentally vital element in the country’s overall stabilisation. This is all the more essential at a time when Afghanistan will be put through a significant transition in the next two years, following the decisions made at the Nato Summit in Chicago.
While the Afghan war remains increasingly unpopular across the Western world, the global community must also rise to an important obligation in danger of being forgotten - the need to revitalise Afghanistan economically so that its people can rid themselves of a long-running conflict, once and for all!
n The writer is a Pakistan-based commentator, who writes on political and economic matters. This article has been reproduced from the Gulf News.