U.S. President Barack Obama will give a speech on Afghanistan on June 22. Whatever he says, it is becoming apparent that the United States is exploring ways to accelerate the drawdown of its forces in the country. It is also clear that U.S. relations with Pakistan are deteriorating to a point where cooperation — whatever level there was — is breaking down. These are two intimately related issues. Any withdrawal from Afghanistan, particularly an accelerated one, will leave a power vacuum in Afghanistan that the Kabul government will not be able to fill. Afghanistan is Pakistan’s back door, and its evolution is a matter of fundamental interest to Pakistan. A U.S. withdrawal means an Afghanistan intertwined with and influenced by Pakistan. Therefore, the current dynamic with Pakistan challenges any withdrawal plan.
There may be some in the U.S. military who believe that the United States might prevail in Afghanistan, but they are few in number. The champion of this view, Gen. David Petraeus, has been relieved of his command of forces in Afghanistan and promoted (or kicked upstairs) to become director of the CIA. The conventional definition of victory has been the creation of a strong government in Kabul controlling an army and police force able to protect the regime and ultimately impose its will throughout Afghanistan. With President Hamid Karzai increasingly uncooperative with the United States, the likelihood of this outcome is evaporating. Karzai realizes his American protection will be withdrawn and understands that the Americans will blame him for any negative outcomes of the withdrawal because of his inability or unwillingness to control corruption.
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