- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Afghanistan’s parliament recently convened for the first time in 30 years. The jockeying for positions, tribal politics and testy exchanges attest to its authenticity as an Afghan institution, not a rubberstamping government organ. The establishment of a functioning parliament has been made possible by the will of the Afghan people themselves to cooperate, and the efforts of an international coalition and. It has undoubtedly occurred despite ethnic and other differences.

The political milestone and the news that NATO is expanding its peacekeeping mission and that the United States will be drawing down forces — from 19,000 to 16,500 by next spring — are welcome. Still, donor countries, which are re-evaluating their financial commitments to Afghanistan, should not draw easy comfort from those developments. Afghanistan is far from establishing a national economy that can sustain a security apparatus, or the manpower to effectively police the country.

Afghan officials have become increasingly nervous about donor commitment to their country (since some degree of Iraq fatigue is setting in around the world, even in the U.S. Congress). The challenges faced by the United States and its allies in Iraq could change the political temperament toward Afghanistan, they fear. A reduction of resources toward Afghanistan would severely endanger the mission there.

Afghanistan’s own security personnel, who have become increasingly competent, are dependent on the financial backing of donors. Also important is the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of troops in Afghanistan. There are strategic reasons why the United States and NATO want to keep the military footprint as small as possible. The presence of special-forces troops, especially intelligence-gathering officials, remains essential in Afghanistan.

Taliban and al Qaeda remnants still maintain their disruptive capability in Afghanistan. The governments that used to work with the Taliban have preserved their contacts with former government officials. It would not be difficult for a Taliban threat to rise again.

Afghanistan has met the goals set out in the Bonn agreement, thanks in part to an international commitment. Donor countries must continue that commitment if they do not want to see hostile forces threaten Afghanistan, or elsewhere, again.

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