KABUL, Afghanistan — The NATO summit’s plan to “responsibly wind down” the Afghan war is not entirely in the hands of President Barack Obama and fellow world leaders.
The carefully orchestrated exit strategy could come unhinged if the resilient Taliban stage a major comeback or Afghanistan’s neighbors interfere with the process to bolster their position in a weak country soon to be without thousands of international combat troops.
In short, the Taliban, Pakistan and Iran still get a vote.
The Taliban, who continue to carry out attacks across the country and have shown little interest in negotiating peace with the Afghan government, described the NATO summit as a “show” with “no result.”
“Nobody can trust their statements and lies,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email Tuesday. “They are claiming that everything is fine in Afghanistan, which is far from the reality.”
At the summit, the U.S.-led NATO coalition finalized its plan for Afghan forces to take the lead in providing security in the middle of next year. Foreign troops will move into backup roles, then completely end their combat mission at the close of 2014. The goal is to pull back gradually to avoid a repeat of the civil war that followed the Soviet exit two decades ago — chaos that paved the way for the rise of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Ivo Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters that the U.S. has been paying close attention to the role of Iran and particularly Pakistan in the transition strategy for Afghanistan.
“We are in a very active and in-depth set of dialogues with Pakistan to find ways in which we can cooperate to deal with the problems that exist in order to make sure that our strategy in Afghanistan will succeed,” Daalder said. “That’s why we have and will continue to find ways to cooperate on dealing with the terrorists.”
Pakistan has said repeatedly that it wants a stable Afghanistan, and the U.S. has given that country billions of dollars in aid over the past decade to enlist its support in fighting Islamist militants. But U.S. officials also have accused Pakistan of being a fickle ally and even supporting Taliban insurgents fighting the American troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied this allegation.
Last year, then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said the Haqqani network, which is affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida, “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Mullen accused the network last year of staging an attack against the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul and being behind a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers. He claimed Pakistan’s spy agency helped the group.
Still, Afghanistan and the U.S. need Pakistan’s help to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. “It is in Pakistan’s interest to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism that is in their midst,” Obama said in Chicago.