An Afghan Afghanistan

NEW DELHI – As it braces for its upcoming presidential election, Afghanistan finds itself at another critical juncture, with its unity and territorial integrity at stake after 35 years of relentless war. Can Afghanistan finally escape the cycle of militancy and foreign intervention that has plagued it for more than three decades?

Two key questions are shaping discussions about Afghanistan’s post-2014 trajectory. The first concerns the extent to which Pakistan will interfere in Afghan affairs, such as by aiding and abetting the Afghan Taliban and its main allies, including the Haqqani network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s militia. This will depend on whether the United States conditions its generous aid to cash-strapped Pakistan on noninterference in Afghanistan.

The second question is whether US-led NATO forces will continue to play any role in Afghanistan. It is no secret that US President Barack Obama wants to maintain an American military presence in the country – a reversal of his declaration in 2009 that the US sought no military bases there.

Indeed, for several months, the US has been involved in painstaking negotiations with the Afghan government to conclude a bilateral security agreement that would enable the US to maintain bases in Afghanistan virtually indefinitely. What was supposed to be an endgame for Afghanistan has turned into a new game over America’s basing strategy.