Viewpoint: Extra time needed on clock in Afghanistan
Ten years after the war started, all major stakeholders in Afghanistan - the US government, Nato, the Afghan government, its neighbours and even the Taliban - are all on the clock.
They know when the war will end, or at least the foreign piece of it.
This, as some predicted, interferes with mission accomplishment, achieving a political resolution that ends the insurgency and politically stabilises Afghanistan.
Success in Afghanistan, and more importantly next door in Pakistan, requires doing something right now: putting more time on the clock.
This doesn't require changing the Obama administration's existing mission, rather negotiating its successor. The sooner the better.
There are some remarkable aspects of the 10th anniversary of the entry of US military and civilian assets into Afghanistan.
End Quote PJ Crowley
The Afghan people want the troops to stay. In fact, they should. The best reason: history”
The first is the fact of the anniversary itself. Few people would have guessed in 2001 that, today, the US would still have large numbers of forces in Afghanistan fighting an active war.
Another fact is that, while the al-Qaeda haven was eliminated long ago, the broader mission of ensuring that it cannot happen again is not yet accomplished and won't be by 2014, when combat forces are supposed to depart.
And while Western populations have tired of the conflict and want the troops home now, what is probably most surprising about the current situation is the ongoing support of the Afghan people.
And this conflict is happening in a country with a well-earned reputation as the "graveyard of empires".Critical weaknesses
The Afghan people want the troops to stay. In fact, they should. The best reason: history.
The US turned its back on Afghanistan and Pakistan 20 years ago following the demise of the Soviet Union, and lived to regret it.
At the risk of over-simplification, Pakistan, concerned about India and seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, created and supported the Taliban.
The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan and supported and sheltered Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Then al-Qaeda attacked its far enemy, the United States.Real momentum
Afghanistan has critical internal weaknesses - security forces that are improving, but that are not yet ready to assume responsibility for the whole country; a civilian government with weak institutions, handicapped by corruption and a lack of trust by the Afghan people; and a fragile agricultural-based economy that cannot support itself at any point in the near future.
The US and international community need to be realistic - Afghanistan will not be a Jeffersonian democracy or vibrant market economy anytime soon, if ever.
It is reasonable to expect that the capacity of the Afghan government will grow steadily over time. But for some time, well past 2014, it will still require a great deal of civilian help.
On the military side, the overarching mission to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda" has gained real momentum - the raid on Osama Bin Laden the best example.
But al-Qaeda and its allies still have a safe haven that threatens Afghanistan and the West. Eliminating that requires building greater trust with and gaining more co-operation from Pakistan, which is a long-term proposition.Pakistan on fence
The US-Pakistan relationship, already fragile, is going through a period of significant turbulence.
Pakistani public support for the relationship collapsed with the Bin Laden raid, the deaths of three Pakistani citizens because of an American intelligence contractor and now public accusations of Pakistani complicity in the recent attack on the US embassy in Kabul.
Key assumptions supporting the original 2014 withdrawal timetable from Afghanistan included improvement in US-Pakistani relations and effective Pakistani action against extremists within its borders.
Though Pakistan knows it has a significant militant challenge within its borders and has taken some action at a tremendous cost, it hasn't taken large enough strides.
It maintains relations with (and likely support for) groups that are extensions of its policies towards Afghanistan and India.
As long as Pakistan remains on the fence, the prospects of serious political negotiations to end the insurgency are dim.
In short, everyone is jockeying for leverage, anticipating the day the last American soldier departs Afghanistan.Increasing the odds
Stability for Afghanistan - and security for the US - is impossible under these circumstances.
So what should the Obama administration do now?
First, the White House should continue with the current strategy. It is making progress even if the broader strategic situation remains unresolved.
Second, the Obama administration should negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement that envisions the long-term presence of a smaller cadre of assets to fulfil three missions.
Those missions should include the training of Afghan security forces; conducting counter-terrorism strikes against militants on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border; and providing security for the ongoing civilian institution-building effort, reducing the need for contractors.
Third, the White House should make clear to all regional stakeholders through patient yet determined diplomacy, that the US remains committed to Afghanistan and South Asia. We aren't going anywhere. You cannot wait us out.
It's time to negotiate a long-term resolution to the conflict.
By putting more time on the clock, the United States can increase the odds of military, political and strategic success.