Americans are faced with an impossible task. They do not wish to be seen to be installing a Talib Emirate in Kabul. If identified with such action they may never look like harbingers of democracy, part of their manifest destiny.
It does not take long for great powers to develop more than one point of interest once they have entered an area of strategic significance. It would therefore be fanciful to imagine an America-free Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. “All this blood and treasure was spent for what?” some Americans will ask. Also the chant in Kabul once was “We must remain in the vicinity to keep a watch on the world’s only Muslim nuclear state.”
Are the Americans likely to walk away simply because they are exasperated? After having spent a trillion dollars, losing thousands of lives, losing face – so soon after their reversal in Syria – are they really contemplating withdrawal? Will the bosses of UNOCAL suck their thumbs now? Will the priceless poppy fields of Helmand, the oil in the North, the unexplored mineral wealth now become a Russian asset?
The new Prime Minister will be pragmatic. He will not seek to impose a moral code on his armed forces. But he will draw some very firm red lines and these red lines will stretch from Pakhtunkhwa right through Afghanistan, the arena of his political baptism and purgatory. That is where he cannot be seen to be striking deals. His political turf will turn to ash if he does.
The interesting detail that should not be overlooked is this: even as Messrs McChrystal and Petreaus were talking “withdrawal” in 2011, Karzai had already contrived an extension until 2014. Karzai established his indispensability at a time when the Western media had written him off as “not even the mayor of Kabul” one “whose writ does not run beyond the Presidential palace”.
If there was no consistent American stand on withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2010, why should we be convinced that the 2014 deadline is cast in stone?