Immediately after taking charge as the new Afghanistan president, Ashraf Ghani has signed a security pact with the US, sending a clear message that he means to heal an alliance that has soured under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. The agreement will allow 9,800 American and at least 2,000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission formally ends on December 31. Most of them will help train and assist the struggling Afghan security forces, although some American Special Operations forces will remain to conduct counterterrorism missions.
The global landscape in which the security agreement is finally taking hold is quite different from the one in which it was conceived more than a year ago. The sudden onslaught of Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq has reshaped a large stretch of the Middle East and the new US military mission against the group is dominating American attention and resources. In Afghanistan, a multifront Taliban offensive this summer has raised questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to keep the insurgency at bay as they suffer soaring casualty rates and continue to struggle with logistical problems.
While Ghani’s first task now must be to ensure ethnic and geographic dividing lines that surfaced during his dispute with Abdullah Abdullah during the presidential polls are obliterated, the US must not commit the mistake of what it did in 1983, and slow down the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, as India has pleaded. The US remains the only superpower that has the reason and the resources to fight the curse of Islamic militancy, whose ultimate aim is to hit out at America, as on 9/11. India, too, is one of the targets of the psychopaths now active in Syria and Iraq and has come under increasing threat because of the switch in the allegiance of the Pakistan Taliban from al-Qaeda to the ISIS. The American presence in Afghanistan is unavoidable in such circumstances.