Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister and a professor at Washington's National Defense University, reflected on whether a bilateral security pact between Washington and Kabul will be signed, concluding that the presence of international troops is only part of a solution to bring stability to Afghanistan.
In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Jan Alekozai and Zarif Nazar, Jalali said the country needs continuing military support, but that its security would also require a peace agreement with the armed opposition, international assistance and increased cooperation with its neighbors.
RFE/RL: If President Hamid Karzai resists signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington, what implications do you see for Afghanistan?
Ali Ahmad Jalali: The departure of all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan will create problems. But the presence of a smaller international military force is only one way of restoring stability to Afghanistan. The important thing is whether the bilateral relationship between Kabul and Washington can continue without the presence of U.S. forces. For example, will the U.S. honor the [aid] commitments it has made? These include crucial support for Afghan security forces.
During the past twelve years, the Afghan military has come a long way in terms of improving its capacity and professionalism. But it still needs support in improving land and air transport. The Afghan army still lacks heavy weapons and faces problems in using and gathering intelligence.
RFE/RL: Karzai has accused Washington of not doing enough to end terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan, which threaten Afghan security. How do you assess this issue?
Jalali: There is no doubt that Afghanistan faces a terrorist threat and interference from neighboring countries. But both the international community and the Afghan government have not done enough to end this.
While the terrorist sanctuaries are outside Afghanistan, terrorists do operate inside the country, which means that they have to be countered on both fronts. The lack of proper coordination between the Afghan and foreign forces and the weaknesses of the Afghan government exacerbate this problem.
In addition, all the countries contributing troops to the foreign forces in Afghanistan do not have the same agendas, which results in dragging this problem on.
RFE/RL: What can be done to improve the security situation in Afghanistan as international forces move towards an exit this year?
Jalali: By the end of 2014 when most international troops leave Afghanistan, there will be a visible gap between the level of threats and the Afghan forces’ capacity to deal with them. This gap needs to be filled. One way of filling this gap is for the international assistance to continue and for a residual international force to stay on in the country.
But the presence of international forces is not a magic potion that will resolve all problems. A peace agreement with the armed opposition is another way of reducing the [security] threat. Increased cooperation with Pakistan is another alternative.
The third one is a clear commitment from the international community to help Afghanistan in the future. This will signal to the insurgents and Afghanistan's neighbors that Kabul is not alone. With their help the Afghan security forces should be strong enough to protect and ensure the continuation of the current political system.
Finally, this April's presidential election should help in uniting Afghans. If the people of Afghanistan see the election process as free and fair and accept its results as credible, it will help. If the election delivers a credible government that can unite the Afghan people and ensures their participation in the governance it will help the country in tackling the impending threats.
RFE/RL: Some surveys in the U.S. indicate that popular support for the war in Afghanistan is dwindling. How you see this affecting future support for the Afghan military?
Jalali: For now the U.S. government and the Congress agree on continuing helping Afghanistan until it stands on its feet. We know from the past experience that countries where there is no U.S. presence see a rapid decline in Washington's assistance. This was the case in Haiti, Kosovo and the Balkans.
We can conclude that a limited U.S. troop presence serves as a catalyst for attracting other aid.