Khalid Iqbal Mikhail Gorbachev has appositely stated: Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be. The Afghan war has not been able to solve any problem; rather it has created more and further added to the complexity of the situation. Since President Barack Obamas West Point speech, tactical successes on the battlefield have not been able to measure up to the envisaged level of a lasting strategic progress in the war. Despite a huge infusion of blood and treasure, an enabling dynamics of insurgency continue to haunt the foreign forces. Equally the Americanisation of the war by Obama has raised the stakes, while victory or defeat would solely belong to the US. Americas budget deficit for 2010 is $1.4 trillion. Over the past decade, the national debt has soared to $12.9 trillion; more than a trillion has been spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To offset the deficit, Obama has recently announced salary cuts for federal workers, which amount to $2.5 billion a year, compared to $100 billion going down the drain in Afghanistan during that timeframe. Obama, under pressure to show results, has offered an overly simplistic and optimistic assessment of the Afghan war. However, the Taliban have rejected the recent US review of war strategy, saying that America has failed on both the political and the military fronts. Apparently, the presidential review is pegged around two assumptions - the persistence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and the poor quality of governance in Afghanistan. Firstly, Taliban control 90 percent of Afghanistan, they do not really need sanctuaries in Pakistan. Secondly, poor governance and corruption in Afghanistan has eluded effective international management since the early days of occupation. Due to the recent pressure, President Hamid Karzai has stonewalled; he blames the occupation forces for all the ills. Late Richard Holbrook once pointed out: Our [US] presence is the corrupting force. In addition, the occupation forces have been losing on the development and humanitarian aid fronts. Billions have been misspent on wasteful projects, while relief workers are getting killed at an alarming rate. It is a war being fought by and through contractors for the benefit of the American military industrial complex. A majority of the American people now oppose the war because they can see through the lies and deceit. The US public perceives the hoax about safe havens as a cover-up for the incompetence of the American commanders, who are waging useless tactical battles with the objective of prolonging, rather than wining the war. Hence, military campaigns are just suppressing the effects of the malaise temporarily, without treating the root causes for an enduring calm. Vice President Joe Biden has recently put forward a view that Al-Qaeda is planning to bring down Pakistan, implicitly urging its military to embroil itself in North Waziristan. Summoning of DG ISI by a Brooklyn court and Pentagons recent plan leaked by the New York Times about stationing of US Special Forces inside Pakistan to carry out land operations in the tribal region are the newly added spices to a perennial process to pressurise Pakistan. Certainly, this is the US way of making Pakistan a scapegoat for its own failings. The Pakistani military has taken stringent measures to flush out the miscreants from its tribal areas. However, things have spun out of control in Afghanistan and except for a few strongholds the guerrilla fighters are back in action. Any attempt of an expanded campaign by the Special Forces inside Pakistans tribal areas would carry a prohibitive cost; backlash would be quite severe. In all probability, NATO supply routes would come under heightened disruptive attacks. The meltdown of ISAF and waning international support is expected to force Obama to fast forward his promised withdrawal from Kabul. Rhetoric aside, the retrieval is likely to be earlier than expected; it could be quick, chaotic and destabilising. So the withdrawal that begins in mid 2011 may end well before 2014. But it is expected that through the media, the prevailing situation would gradually be reinterpreted and adapted as a victory. Moreover, the expectations about the capacity of the Afghan National Army in 2014 are not pragmatic; so are the assumptions related to the evolution of state structures at the district level. The Taliban are a perennial player of the Afghan political canvas; they need to be engaged constructively for an enduring political settlement. And since the Taliban leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, the US needs to seize the moment and carry forward the process with utmost sincerity. There is a need to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which the Taliban are inducted into the Afghan settlement process. Furthermore, the current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban need strengthening. The US must take the initiative to start negotiations, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban are likely to be stronger with the passage of time. An immediate ceasefire and political engagement with the insurgency leadership could kick off a de-escalation process leading to a viable broad-based coalition government. Negotiations are expected to be complex, multi-tiered and multi-faceted - something like wheels within wheels. A suggestion: Obama could jump start the process by appointing a 'presidential interlocutor. To coincide with the end of combat mission, Karzai will be due for relinquishing power on reaching the constitutional limit of two tenures in 2014. There is a need to spell out an appropriate succession plan to ward off political instability. The question about the legality of drone strikes has already been taken to the Pakistani courts by the victims. In due course, drone strikes could be struck down as unlawful by the UN, International Court of Justice and the US Supreme Court. The US relies on Article 51 of UN charter to justify the use of drones inside Pakistan. However, this particular Article can only be implemented if one state has attacked another state or a state maintains an effective control over the non-state actors, which intend or have attacked the other state. Moreover, despite the unconventional nature of the conflict, a distinction between military and civilian object is necessary. Even if the Pakistani government has consented or tacitly approved US drone strikes in its territory, each attack would come under scrutiny on the principles of distinction, intensity and proportionality. The Pakistani leadership is well aware that, as the time of withdrawal nears, the US would continue to raise the ante to portray it as having scuttled the prospect of American victory in Afghanistan. Irrespective of the quantum of effort by Pakistan, the US is not likely to be satisfied; it will continue to push Pakistan into a self-destructive alley. Pakistan needs to come up with a robust plan to tackle the incrementally mounting pressures during the transition phase commencing July the next. The writer is a retired air commodore of Pakistan Air Force.