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After Troops Withdraw, Will West Still Support Democracy in Afghanistan?

Afghan women queue outside a school to vote in presidential elections in the western city of Herat.
Afghan women queue outside a school to vote in presidential elections in the western city of Herat.
Despite President Barak Obama’s recent announcement to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by the end of 2016, Afghans hope Western nations will continue to invest in their country's future.

Afghan lawmakers and analysts hope that Washington and allies will have a pragmatic view of their country after a new leader emerges from the vigorously contested June 14 elections.

Former Afghan army general Amrullah Aman said the West has strong incentives to invest in Afghanistan's future.

"The promises the international community made to Afghans should be fulfilled," he said. "They should not let our country be turned into a safe haven for terrorists, fanatics, extremists, and drug traffickers."

Aman argues that declaring Al-Qaeda dead is premature. "They should remember that in case of failure here, terrorism will follow them home -- similar to what happened before 9/11," he said.

In recent days the rapid capture of large swathes of Iraq by the Al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) lends credence to such warnings.

In recent years, calls for an end to the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan grew with the worsening financial crisis in the U.S. and Europe. A recent survey shows that public opposition to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan rose to 89 percent from a mere 9 percent in 2001.

Lawmaker Shukria Barakzai said that the success of Afghanistan’s recent presidential polls raised hopes about her country's future.

"If they [international observers] thought that Afghanistan is a lost cause, or that Afghans cannot accept democracy, or that Afghans only know [how to fight] wars, then these elections proved them wrong," she said. "These elections opened a new perspective for the international community to look at Afghanistan anew."

International aid is essential for keeping Afghanistan's fledgling economy afloat and maintaining its 400,000 security forces. Donors at the 2012 Tokyo conference pledged $4 billion in annual aid between 2012 and 2015, with the condition that Kabul will improve governance and combat endemic corruption.

In addition, Washington and its allies are spending billions more to train and equip Afghan security forces, who will need sustained funding for years.

Afghan presidential contenders Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah have said that they will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington to ensure security assistance for the next decade.

Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, a Kabul-based analyst, said that the international community should learn from its past mistakes to adopt a pragmatic future approach.

"After the Bonn Conference [in 2001], the international community trusted the wrong Afghan power brokers, such as the warlords, who eventually wasted international aid money," he said. "Now through their participation in these [presidential] elections, Afghans have proved to the world that they are committed to international standards and democratic values and thus deserve continued international help."

Malali Bashir tweets @malalibashir