Afghan pullout: Trilateral meeting to set rules of disengagement

Published: December 23, 2010
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Afghan National Army (ANA) officers at Ghazi Military Training Center in Kabul. Troops for the ANA, funded by NATO and the US, will increase next year when foreign forces start to draw down. PHOTO: AFP

Afghan National Army (ANA) officers at Ghazi Military Training Center in Kabul. Troops for the ANA, funded by NATO and the US, will increase next year when foreign forces start to draw down. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: The Obama administration plans to host what is being seen as a crucial meeting of key allies in February next year to determine conditions under which the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) forces will start pulling out of Afghanistan in 2011.

The trilateral meeting, scheduled to take place in Washington, will be attended by foreign ministers from the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan, said the officials.

The foreign office spokesman confirmed that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been invited to attend the meeting.

The meeting will review the current Afghan strategy and the way forward, Abdul Basit told The Express Tribune, but did not go into the specifics.

The meeting is a follow-up of the recently concluded Afghan review by the Obama administration, which has reported ‘notable but reversible gains’ in the region against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Despite the fragile progress, the US has decided to stick to its plans of starting the phased withdrawal from Afghanistan in July next year and complete the process by 2014.

In the three-way dialogue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will take her Pakistani and Afghan counterparts into confidence on the pullout, said a western diplomat.

There are fears both in Pakistan and Afghanistan about the possible fallout of the US troops’ withdrawal from the war-ravaged country.

Pakistan is not fully aware of the American plans as yet, claimed a senior government official, who went on to say that there were even apprehensions that the US may pull out of Afghanistan in haste due to public pressure.

“Honestly speaking we are not sure if the Obama administration can sustain this war any longer …. they are spending $100 billion a year in Afghanistan and the pressure is mounting on President Obama to wind up the war,” the official said.

He maintained that was why Pakistan would certainly like to know the US pullout plan.

Another area that concerns Pakistan is the composition of the Afghan National Army.  Islamabad has been privately telling the US that the Afghan National Army, which is in its building process, is ethnically not represented.

It says excluding Pakhtuns from the Afghan Army could create serious trouble once the US leaves the region.

Pakhtuns comprise almost 60 per cent of the Afghan population. And reports indicate that their representation in the Afghan National Army is less than 40 per cent.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2010.

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