Terms of retreat
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As America prepares to withdraw, India must brace for greater instability in Afghanistan
After his meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the White House over the weekend, US President Barack Obama declared that a "historic moment" is at hand as America cedes all the security responsibilities to Afghan national forces this spring. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the decision marks the "last chapter" in the Afghan war. It certainly is a historic moment. For, America's longest ever war in foreign lands is drawing to a close. But it is certainly not the last chapter in Afghanistan's prolonged conflict. Ending the American occupation will reduce Washington's burdens, but it could also set the stage for a new and violent chapter in the tragic history of Afghanistan.
Four years ago, when he began his first term in the White House, Obama argued that America's military involvement in Afghanistan was a "war of necessity", and blamed his predecessor, George W. Bush, for turning his attention away to a costly and needless "war of choice" in Iraq. He quickly expanded the American military footprint in Afghanistan with the hope that the situation there could be turned around with a more focused strategic effort. As he begins his second term, Obama knows the situation in Afghanistan has only deteriorated. In a nation that has become war-weary, there is little significant political opposition to Obama's judgement that America must cut its losses and leave Afghanistan by 2014. On the question of countering international networks like the al-Qaeda, many in the Obama Administration are arguing that those objectives can be achieved without a significant military presence in Afghanistan.