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EXIT ROUTE

Having already set the date of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan for 2014 in his first presidency, Barack Obama has taken on the challenge of fleshing out the exit plan early on in his second stint. In his state of the union address, Mr Obama promised to pull back 34,000, or almost half, of the American troops stationed in Afghanistan by early next year. This means he has relented to Pentagon’s argument of having sufficient number of troops to fight in Afghanistan during the peak summer months of 2013 while standing by his commitment on the troop pull-out. The decision has more to do with assuring the safety of the residual American contingent stationed in Afghanistan than with securing Afghans against insurgent attacks. The responsibility for the latter has been transferred to the willing shoulders of the Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, who has insisted on the speedy withdrawal of Nato forces from his country as a primary necessity to facilitate an early political solution. As with Mr Obama’s exit plan, Mr Karzai’s peace plan is ready but unlike the former, the latter seems to be progressing rather tardily. The reason for this is that the plan is dependent on three variables, which do not seem to be behaving the way they were expected to. The first of these is the Afghan army, which is to take on the onerous task of national security but is yet to inspire national confidence in its capabilities. The second is Pakistan, which is supposed to play the part of a peace-loving neighbour, hand over insurgent leaders within its territory to further peace talks and respect Afghanistan’s borders. Pakistan has in mind a role very different from the one Mr Karzai has drawn for it and is continuing to play by its own rules to realize its strategic goals in the country.

Of the three, the most important variable in Mr Karzai’s calculation is the Taliban, who were expected to fall for Mr Karzai’s offer of peace and pick up the loaves of office that were placed on the platter for them. The Taliban have shown recently that they are not averse to peace, but, and most frustratingly for Mr Karzai, they still want nothing to do with him. So while the drawdown plans progress with furious speed, both Afghanistan and its president continue to look curiously helpless. Their only hope is that the allies’ money does not leave them with as much hurry.