If media reports (or leaks) are to be believed, then the Obama administration is all set to tweak its policy towards Afghanistan and unveil a plan to end US combat operations by 2014. This fine-tuning was in the cards, though the earlier plan to start drawing down US forces from July 2011 remains in place. Apparently, the drawing down process will be slowed.
It is in fact realistic and pragmatic to pursue this approach, because the Afghan military and police will get more time to take up their responsibilities and settle down. Moderate elements among Afghan insurgents may also feel the pressure to come to the negotiating table.
However, deteriorating US relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai are a big hurdle in this context. The new Afghan parliament is also expected to become assertive in the meantime. Relations between Pakistan and the US are yet another part of the matrix—partly fragile, partly unpredictable. The Obama administration is well advised to involve regional players as well as the UN as it seeks to reach a peaceful and sustainable settlement for Afghanistan.
Hassan Abbas is Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow and is in New York.