With the conference at Chicago to commemorate the 25th anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, member countries have taken another step closer to the exit from Afghanistan. The basics had already been worked out in the diplomatic agreement signed earlier between the Afghanistan president and his counterpart in the United States of America. Apart from re-affirming 2014 as the date of withdrawal, the pact had assuaged the principal worry of Hamid Karzai — the fear of abandonment. The Chicago summit endorses what Barack Obama has promised Mr Karzai — that his allies will not be forsaking him and will lend him a hand after the appointed date of departure. The Chicago agreement elaborates on two things. One, that the mission will continue post-2014 in a “different nature” and two, that this continuation is at the “request” of Afghanistan. But even here, a clear time line has been set. The $4.1 billion needed annually, together with the assistance required by Afghanistan to “stand up”, will be provided not later than 2024, by which time Afghanistan is expected to bear full financial responsibility for its security forces.
But what has not been written into the Chicago statement should worry Mr Karzai more, and these have to do with the domestic compulsions of the signing members that may overwrite what has been put on paper. Take France’s needs, which has made the country retract from its previous commitment. The shrinking purses of many of Nato’s members may force them to concentrate more on rebuilding at home than on Afghanistan. “Rebuilding” again takes on an entirely different dimension in an election year, as Mr Obama’s changing focus on Afghanistan suggests. Despite the threat of the resurgence of al Qaida that Nato officials admitted to, Mr Obama cannot but respond to the war fatigue at home and press on with his exit strategy that appears to be the first step in his plan to rebuild America. Elections are no less important to Pakistan, the country most crucial to Afghanistan’s future, but which got its invitation to Chicago only as a bribe to reopen the Nato supply route. Despite its dependence on US aid, the civilian establishment of Pakistan cannot appear to tamely surrender to the West’s designs in Afghanistan. In other words, Afghanistan remains susceptible to the ever-changing priorities of the many parties that hold the key to its peace.