The long-awaited NATO Summit being held in Chicago next week with more than 60 heads of state and government in attendance will focus much of its deliberations on the future of Afghanistan. While “transition” has become a buzzword for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, the U.S and NATO Commander in Afghanistan General John Allen is rightly focusing instead on the importance of a long-term Alliance commitment to the country.
Taking the long view onAfghanistanmeans NATO countries recognize that it is in their collective national security interest to preventAfghanistanfrom ever becoming a terrorist safe haven again. Each NATO country must demonstrate that it will remain committed to Afghanistan’s stability and security long after 2014, when NATO combat operations are scheduled to end. This is important both to reassure average Afghans that the international community will not abandon them like it did in 1989 and to signal to the Taliban that it cannot simply wait out the coalition.
Summit discussions on Afghanistan should highlight the recently concluded U.S.–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). The SPA was a significant achievement that provides an outline for U.S.–Afghan relations post-2014. While the SPA specifies neither futureU.S.funding amounts nor troop levels, it does offer a broadU.S.commitment to supportAfghanistanfinancially and to bolster democratic institutions and civil society through 2024. It also provides a framework for theU.S.to maintain a residual presence to train Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.
The signing of the SPA has already helped build confidence among the NATO allies and encouraged them to make their own long-term commitments toAfghanistan. Just yesterday, the German government concluded an SPA with the Afghan government that commits it to providing around $190 million in annual aid for the Afghan security forces.
Other NATO countries that have concluded similar agreements includeFrance, theUnited Kingdom, andItaly. Non-NATO countries that have a stake in the future ofAfghanistan, likeIndia, have also inked strategic partnership agreements withKabul.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari received a last-minute invitation to the summit with the expectation that Pakistan will reopen NATO supply routes that have been shut down ever since NATO forces accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border last November. A failure by Pakistan to announce the reinstitution of the routes by the summit would prove embarrassing for NATO members.
Pakistan had previously demanded an apology from the U.S. for the November attack before it would agree to reopen the transit routes. The U.S. apparently was willing to provide it, until the Pakistan-based Haqqani network conducted brazen coordinated attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan on April 15. U.S. officials and Members of Congress have grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan’s lack of action against the network, which is located in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The Taliban and Haqqani network sanctuaries inside Pakistan threaten the overall NATO mission in Afghanistan and will be the proverbial elephant in the room in Chicago. President Zardari is likely to professPakistan’s support for Afghan stability, but Afghan leaders will look instead for concrete Pakistani action against Afghan insurgent bases within its territory.
As David Ignatius pointed out in yesterday’s Washington Post, Pakistanis have been foolish to compromise with the Haqqani network over the last decade instead of working more closely with NATO and the U.S. to uproot terrorism from the region. Now that it is clear the international community will not give up on Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan will finally decide it is time to give up on the insurgents wreaking havoc on its neighbor.