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S. Thiagarajan asked: How the United States will continue its war against terrorism after 2014? Is it through air power (via drones, fixed wing fighter jets)?

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  • Vishal Chandra replies: There can be no clear cut reply to this query at the moment, as the nature and level of the US engagement in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region post-2014 remain somewhat vague. The bilateral security or the status-of-force agreement, which is supposed to provide a legal framework and lay down terms and conditions for the American presence beyond 2014, is still being negotiated. Serious differences have emerged between Kabul and Washington over the issue of operational role, authority and legal immunity of the American troops to be stationed in Afghanistan after 2014. A long-term security agreement with the US is bound to have implications for politics both within Afghanistan and at the wider regional level. It remains to be seen whether Washington would enter into a security agreement with the current government or wait for the elections in April next year and the new leadership to take over.

    However, it is clear that the US and certain NATO member-states would be maintaining some military presence in different parts of the country in support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which will remain critically dependent on Western assistance for several years to come. The NATO too is mulling over the broad contours of its post-ISAF mission. Kabul is likely to enter into a separate agreement with NATO after the security agreement with the US comes through.

    How important the Afghan mission will be for the US after 2014-15, is the key issue here. At the wider Asian level, Washington is engaged in re-aligning its political and military strategies to deal with long-term challenges posed by developments taking place in both West and East Asia. Though it is too early to be commenting on its likely implications for the US’ post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, it is clear that the US foreign policy and response strategies are in for a major transformation.

    There is definitely a big question mark on the effectiveness of the US role and presence in managing the Afghan situation after 2014 and particularly in dealing with Pakistan’s continued support to forces inimical to political stability and American presence in Afghanistan. The ongoing effort for political reconciliation with the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban leadership too is unlikely to yield any concrete and sustainable results in the near future. Though the democratically-elected new civilian government in Islamabad has made some positive statements, one would still have to wait and see to what extent the civilian leadership would be able to prevail upon the powerful military establishment of the country.

    In the current scenario, the US is expected to continue with drone strikes against militant groups inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, and special operations along with Afghan forces against militant strongholds inside Afghanistan. Apart from training and equipping the ANSF, the US and its NATO allies will have to retain strong counter-terrorism capabilities to be able to sustain its presence in the country. There is already a debate going on within the US establishment in this regard.

    Much would also depend on the outcome of the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections, particularly the conduct of elections, and the credibility of the next leadership in Kabul. Ultimately, it is the strength of the Afghan institutions, and, more importantly, the will of the Afghan people to protect and further build on the positive achievements of the last one decade that would determine the destiny of post-2014 Afghanistan.