Many uncertainties remain — most immediately the status of negotiations with Pakistan over the reopening of NATO supply routes, and the funding plan for the Afghan national security forces over the coming years, which forms the biggest portion of an Afghan government budget that is still highly dependent on international donors. But pressing Afghan leaders to take responsibility for their country’s future, and for the ensuing political compromises and reforms that will be necessary to sustain the government in a way that does not require large-scale international intervention, is the right course for both U.S. interests and for Afghanistan.
As my colleagues Caroline Wadhams, Brian Katulis and I argued in our recent policy paper, a transition strategy that promotes Afghan’s stability over the medium to long-term requires the U.S. to prioritize diplomatic processes that can work to resolve the political disputes at the heart of the Afghan conflict — rather than pinning the country’s future on the cohesion of its regular and irregular security forces. Although media coverage in the run-up to the summit focused primarily on troop levels and funding pledges, it appears that President Obama focused his bilateral conversations with President Karzai on these issues, and the summit declaration includes strong language in support of reconciliation, good governance, and the importance of transparent presidential elections.
With the news that the United States’ ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, is likely to step down soon, his successor will face the challenge — alongside the other branches of the U.S. government — of making sure that these commitments are not left on the summit drafting table. This effort will require renewed focus from the U.S. and its partners to ensure free and fair elections for Karzai’s successor in 2014, to support an inclusive reconciliation process, and to hold the Afghan government accountable for its management of international donor funds. The international donors conference in Tokyo scheduled for this summer will be the next major opportunity to hold negotiations on this issue on an international scale. NATO and its allies have laid out an increasingly detailed plan for the transition of security responsibility in Afghanistan, but more work will need to be done to develop the processes of political reform and reconciliation that can ultimately support a durable end to the Afghan conflict.