Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that if the USA wished to retain nine air bases in Afghanistan after its withdrawal, it should execute an agreement with his government. He said this while addressing a gathering at Kabul University on Thursday, saying that his government was willing to make an agreement before the US forces withdrew in 2014. He said that Afghanistan’s conditions included internal security and development. In short, he was asking for a continuation of the present arrangement, in which the USA provides the military strength that keeps the Kabul regime in power, as well as oils it with money for corruption, allegedly for aid. This speech comes not on the heels of the recent revelations about President Karzai himself getting cash from the CIA. This does not take into account the real reason the USA is leaving Afghanistan: American policy to influence change in Afghanistan has utterly failed. With consistent targeting of the Americans by the Taliban, even nine bases would prove a security nightmare. Anyway, if nine bases are to be maintained, that would mean in effect the continuation of the present occupation, it would also mean continuing to give the Taliban easy targets to strike at. Obviously, this is an attempt by the US military to prolong the occupation.

However, scattered as these forces will be, they will present relatively scattered targets to the Taliban. It is possible that casualties could actually go up. There is also no mention of what will become of the so-called training mission of US troops which is supposed to be the justification of the mission in Afghanistan, after the supposed withdrawal. As the USA recognizes perforce that its mission in the country has been an utter failure, and that withdrawal is its only option to stop the troops suffering further casualties, attempts to remain despite the writing on the wall must be abandoned. Pakistan should bring this home to the USA that its withdrawal is not just beneficial to itself, but to the entire region, which needs a US withdrawal, genuine and not just in name, to settle down.

Pakistan is on the verge of completing its elections and handling the situation in Afghanistan will be one of its most immediate tasks. That the government elected today will handle developments as the USA prepares both to withdraw and hold onto nine bases is both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to ensure that national interests are kept uppermost in this process. The opportunity is to make the USA complete as comprehensive a withdrawal as possible, which can only be good for the region.