Clinton in Kabul: Afghanistan as a ‘major non-NATO ally’.

In an unannounced trip to Kabul on Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that Afghanistan is now a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States. Among the other nations that have this privileged relationship with Washington are Japan, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan.

This formal designation is part of an intensive political effort by the Obama Administration to reassure Kabul that Washington is committed to the security of Afghanistan after the bulk of international troops withdraw from the country by 2014.

Clinton's declaration, however, is unlikely to eliminate continuing fears in Kabul that Washington might choose to abandon it in the not too distant future. Given the recent U.S. experience with Pakistan, which was declared a "major non-NATO ally' by the Bush Administration in 2004, skepticism about the future U.S.-Afghan military partnership is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

After it ousted the Taliban from power at the end of 2001, the US saw Pakistan as the partner in the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Now many in Washington are convinced that Pakistan is part of the problem but are finding it difficult to cope with that fact.

The real issue, then, is the following: how enduring is the US political will to defending Kabul against its adversaries, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, which have thrived in the sanctuaries that Pakistan has provided.

For now, though, Washington is saying all the right things. Whether those words will remains relevant in the political circumstances that might emerge in the United States and the region in the coming years is the big unknown.

At her joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Clinton insisted that the United States will remain a friend and partner of Afghanistan after 2014. " We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan. Quite the opposite," Clinton declared.

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