NATO’s Dangerous Afghan Dream

NEW DELHI – The agreement at the NATO summit meeting in Lisbon on a transition plan to help end the war in Afghanistan within the next four years raises troubling questions about regional security and the global fight against transnational terrorism. As the US and other coalition partners gradually wind down their combat role, Afghan security forces – to number 300,000 after crash training of new recruits – are to take their place. But these local forces are unlikely to be able to hold the country together.

The most likely post-war scenario is a partition of Afghanistan, with the Taliban calling the shots in the Pashtun-dominated south and east, and the non-Pashtun northern and western regions retaining their current de facto autonomy.

Regionally, there is likely to be greater turmoil. The withdrawal of NATO forces before the job is done will leave India on the front lines to face the brunt of greater terror from the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt. In fact, NATO’s retreat is expected to embolden jihadists in the region – and beyond it – to stage transnational attacks.

The 2014 withdrawal plan, however, comes as no surprise, given US President Barack Obama’s expressed desire to end combat operations in Afghanistan. Indeed, his defense secretary, Robert Gates, made clear last year that the US will now seek to contain terrorism regionally rather than defeat it. The transition plan cements that strategic shift.