This Article appeared in Daily The News on April 10th, 2012.

The US plan for a drawdown from Afghanistan by 2014 had always appeared to be dictated more by US domestic political compulsions, rather than the on-ground situation in that country, which is why its success looked doubtful. These plans have hit serious snags lately. President Obama and his advisers thought that by increasing the number of troops in his “surge” they would be able to bomb the Taliban to the negotiating table, and at the same time, enable the Afghan army and police to take over the country’s security responsibility by the drawdown deadline. The Americans are nowhere near these ambitious objectives.

Recent events like the killing of French and British soldiers, the desecration of the Quran, the shooting of two senior US officials by an Afghan intelligence officer and the massacre of 17 Afghan civilians by Staff Sgt. Bales have shaken the US, even though Washington is putting a brave face. There are differences among Mr Obama’s political team, the Pentagon and the State Department, and deeper ones between the United States and Nato countries on the Afghan issue.

The situation in Afghanistan has not only created problems between the US government and the Afghan government but deep differences within the Afghan government itself. The harsh words recently exchanged between President Hamid Karzai’s chief of staff and his media adviser, in the presence of Gen John Allen, the senior allied commander in Afghanistan, and US ambassador Ryan C Crocker, is a case in point.

The Afghan government has asked that the US/Nato forces be pulled out from villages and outposts to their main bases and the Taliban have quit the Qatar negotiations. Meanwhile, the deliberate US/Nato attack at Salala on November 26 has seriously affected Pakistani-US relations and the efforts underway to repair them would not be easy.

Under these circumstances, there is general uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future beyond 2014. What is certain is that the US, which has vital interests in the region because of its geo-strategic importance with China and Russia in the neighbourhood and its rich mineral resources, will stay on by retaining bases in Afghanistan after 2014, even though this will be unacceptable to both the Afghan government and Taliban.

While the Afghan government may accept that fate in exchange for monetary assistance, the Taliban, the dominant force in southern and eastern Afghanistan, are likely to fiercely oppose continued US presence. In the very least, the Americans would want to retain Bagram Airbase near Kabul and Shindhand Airbase near Herat in western Afghanistan, but this would leave southern and eastern Afghanistan to the Taliban who, if they decide to, will be free to re-establish their Islamic Emirate, with Kandahar as the temporary capital until they recapture Kabul.

This could mean a division of Afghanistan, and no country in the region would want that. In that scenario, the Americans would be likely to maintain bases in the west and in northern Afghanistan, which is under the Northern Alliance area. But even that will work only if they are able to improve governance in their occupied region and to strengthen the army and police there.

As for southern and eastern Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, the region will continue to be punished with drone and air strikes by US and Nato forces. This would be an extremely dangerous situation from Pakistan’s point of view. That danger is compounded by the fact that the US and Nato have encouraged the Afghan government to provide safe havens to Pakistani Taliban fugitives in the country’s Kunar and Nooristan provinces.

The Afghan government has issued these people with identity cards by giving them refugee status and is providing them shelter and rations. Kunar province is Pakhtun-dominated area but the governor is a Northern Alliance nominee. These fugitives, under the command of Maulvi Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and Wali Muhammad, continue to threaten Mohmand and Bajaur agencies and the districts of Dir, Swat and Chitral. This is done with the purpose of turning the area into a buffer against any threat to areas controlled by the Northern Alliance where the US intends to consolidate its bases.

The Taliban in the south and east may continue to harass the Northern Alliance but they will be unable to threaten Kabul because of the presence of US bases. For this reason the present Afghan government will have to sign an agreement for the US bases to continue to stay beyond 2014.

This is the situation the Pakistani government should use as a hypothesis for its own plans Afghanistan. The government also needs to critically rethink its policies and course of action regarding the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and the jihadi networks within this country.