THE handover of Bamiyan province by foreign forces to the Afghan police on Sunday does not signal a military triumph. Like the Panjshir valley, Bamiyan was never a Taliban-infested area and has seen little or no fighting over the last 10 years. Nevertheless, the transfer of the area by the small New Zealand contingent to local authorities deserves to be noted as symbolising the US-Nato intent to eventually quit the theatre of war. How precarious the overall security situation in Afghanistan is became evident when, on the very day the Bamiyan handover took place, the Taliban fought a pitched battle with coalition troops in Nangarhar province and could only be ejected after airpower was used. This battle was a different symbol — that of the Taliban`s tenacity and the militants` by-and-large unhampered presence in many parts of Afghanistan, especially in the south and southeast.
Neither regional powers nor Nato governments are sure how things will work out. The Obama administration has pledged a full withdrawal but has no clear idea of what kind of Afghanistan it will leave behind. On the day President Barack Obama announced his drawdown plan, a Taliban spokesman made it clear that his organisation was not satisfied with a partial withdrawal and will continue to fight as long as foreign forces are present on Afghan soil. This means one can expect fighting to go on till 2014 — the date for the eventual complete pullout of American combat troops. Whether during this withdrawal-cum-fighting phase peace talks make worthwhile progress and the combatants clinch a deal are big questions. The Taliban have no reasons to bend: the war seems to be going in their favour. Since April they have intensified their attacks and civilian casualties during the first half of this year went up by 15 per cent over the corresponding period last year. The Karzai administration — weak and corrupt — doesn`t inspire confidence. The Afghan National Army is not yet in a position where it can take over security in a manner that will bring peace to Afghanistan. Having tired out US-Nato forces, the Taliban are unlikely to have much respect for the Karzai administration.
The basic condition for peace in a post-America Afghanistan is a political arrangement acceptable to all parties — various shades of militants, especially the Taliban, regional powers like Pakistan and Iran, and the withdrawing powers. This will be possible only when a serious effort is undertaken to make a success of the talks and take on board Pakistan, without whose wholehearted support a lasting peace in Afghanistan will not be possible