- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Less than two weeks ago, the NATO allies gathered in Lisbon, where they unanimously adopted a new strategic concept that highlights NATO’s commitment “to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Indeed, it is the moral and civic duty of NATO and its members to help and stand by other nations that aspire to achieve these lofty ideals.

Nine years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan continues its struggle to achieve lasting peace, stability and prosperity in partnership with the international community, including NATO. The ongoing efforts of more than 40 nations in Afghanistan continue to increase operational capacity in the Afghan security institutions. Today, the combined strength of Afghanistan’s army and police forces stands at 249,000, which is scheduled to reach more than 300,000 by October 2011.

While Afghanistan still faces significant security, political, economic and development challenges, the road has been paved for NATO and Afghanistan to enter a new phase of their joint effort. This new phase will entail the gradual and orderly transition of security responsibilities to Afghan national security forces. A long-term vision, the transition process has to be conditions-based. It must be designed to go through successive stages to make sure that conditions for lasting security exist on the ground before transition actually takes place. The transition process must be irreversible and should pay heed to the target date of 2014, as envisioned by President Hamid Karzai in his inaugural speech of November 2009.

Indeed, the implementation of the transition process will require much hard work, synchronization of military and civilian efforts, and close coordination and unity of effort on the ground by both Afghans and the international community. For all this to happen, Afghanistan must be assisted to raise its administrative and planning capacity so that it can effectively absorb and implement the 50 percent of the international aid resources that Afghanistan, in the July 2010 Kabul Conference, requested be channeled through the government’s budget.

And in order for an effective transition to Afghanistan to be sustained in the long run, Afghanistan’s partnership with NATO must go well beyond 2014 to deny their common enemies the incentive to wait and continue their atrocities against Afghans and peoples of other nations. At the same time, the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States, a cornerstone of Afghanistan’s foreign policy, also must go beyond the transient needs of the war against terror. It must be based on the solid foundation of farsighted mutual respect, interest and common goals.

Moreover, the success of transition and achievement of the ultimate goal of peace and stability in Afghanistan will depend on the success we have in our efforts toward peace, reconciliation and reintegration. The formation of the High Council of Peace, following the convening of the Peace Jerga, represents a major, historic step that the government of Afghanistan has taken toward restoring peace and stability in the country. We expect that our neighboring countries and the rest of the international community will strongly support this vital process.

The progress made so far in the area of Afghan national security, although significant, has not taken the country to the point where it desires to be. Afghanistan still faces tremendous challenges and threats that pose risks to its security and sovereignty. The spread of violence to the northern parts of the country is a national threat that has to be taken very seriously. The roots of this adverse development should be explored, and proper measures should be taken to stop and counter it.

And despite the progress made in the area of reducing civilian casualties and improvements made in mechanisms involving insurgency-related detentions, these issues continue to be a major source of concern for the people and government of Afghanistan. Civilian casualties and mishaps during night raids not only create resentment among the population, they also cause tensions between coalition forces and the Afghan government.

The existence of parallel structures competing with government authority and responsibility undermines Afghan sovereignty and leads to redundancy and unnecessary waste of resources. Such parallel structures undermine the legitimacy of the state and play into the hands of the insurgency, turning Afghan public opinion against the state and its international supporters.

Last but not least, the existence of insurgent safe heavens outside of Afghanistan, in particular in Pakistan, and the support they receive from elements within Pakistan continue to pose a serious threat to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Large numbers of training camps and other facilities used by al Qaeda and insurgent Taliban on the other side of the Durand Line threaten the security of Afghanistan, Pakistan and countries far beyond the region.

NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan has become a critical test for the organization’s credibility, political will and military capability. NATO’s failure in Afghanistan will not only take Afghanistan back to where it was 10 years ago, it also will put the lives of the citizens of the North Atlantic nations in eminent danger.

Shaida M. Abdali is the deputy national security adviser of Afghanistan and serves as special assistant to President Hamid Karzai.