NATO's Involvement in Afghanistan Beyond 2016

05/20/2015 04:43 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

On May 13th NATO announced a plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016. The announcement came during the NATO's foreign ministers meeting in the city of Antalya, Turkey. The Afghan foreign minister Salahudin Rabani was invited to the meeting and confirmed the plan after his return to Kabul. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, indicated that while the mission will have a military/security component, it will be led by civilians. Rabani said that the Afghan government will engage its NATO partners to finalize the details in the months to come. The mission has been dubbed "Enduring Partnership."

The final shape and number of the NATO force for Enduring Partnership has not yet been determined. But Stoltenberg characterized it as much smaller than the current mission "Resolute Support" with approximately 13,000 troops. About 7,000 American troops constitute the bulk of Resolute Support. The mission's primary purpose, to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), will not change. The US will continue to conduct counter terrorism operations with the ANSF or alone. The US troops will number about 1000 according to the Wall Street Journal. The question of whether the Afghan government will be able to stem the continued boldness of the insurgency with a very small NATO foot print remains a big question. The Taliban carried out 3 deadly bombings in Kabul recently killing many, including a British contractor training the Afghan police and injuring scores more.
Perhaps the hope is that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will reach some sort of modus vivendi with the resurgent Afghan Taliban by that time. President Ashraf Ghani has been courting the Pakistanis in a major shift from his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, to force the Taliban to the negotiation table. This shift in foreign policy could also have regional implications. Ghani recently made his first trip to India after coming to office in October 2014.

He had made a trip to Pakistan soon after coming to office. This was seen as a snub to India which has given financial and other aid to Afghanistan in the past decade. So, Ghani is taking a calculated risk in the regional geopolitical game which can have major consequences for the future of Afghanistan and this government. There have been a flurry of activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan recently including a secret meeting between the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Mr. Ghani during which the head of ISI promised to pressure the Taliban to agree to talks.

According to reports from Kabul, ISI and its Afghan counterpart, the National Directorate for Security, will closely cooperate in fighting cross border terrorism. The two spy agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding outlining major points of cooperation. Many, including some high ranking officials of the Afghan government, are opposed to this rapid rapprochement between the two rival entities. Some in Afghanistan consider the Taliban to be non-uniformed Pakistani soldiers and are, therefore, very skeptical of ISI's motive. In another development, the Afghan Interior minister just returned from a trip to China where he discussed how China can play a role in the security needs of Afghanistan. The Chinese government has promised to train a limited number of Afghan National police and will provide bomb/explosive detection equipment. The Chinese have been very interested in the natural resources of Afghanistan, but hitherto have not been keen to get directly involved in helping Afghanistan with its security needs. Pakistan has enjoyed a long and profitable relationship with China. So it is conceivable that the Chinese will urge Pakistan to push the Taliban to some kind of settlement with the Afghan government
Against this backdrop the internal Afghan political situation remains tenuous, adding to the challenges. The friction between the members of the Afghan government continues unabated and heats up the climate when there is a difference of opinion. People accuse Mr. Ghani of acting on his own and ignoring the wishes of his coalition partners. As an example they are not happy with the closer ties with Pakistani ISI. While it is important for NATO and the Afghans to think about the post Resolute Support in terms of troop levels and financing the Afghan Security Forces, the immediate concern is whether the current Afghan government will endure as a viable partner to face the challenges.