Our media last week over blew President Barack Obama’s statement after a meeting with Nato Secretary General in Washington that Nato will hold a summit next year on the “final chapter” in its Afghan war and on a new “training mission” after the scheduled combat troops withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. What this reportage clearly ignored was the fact that Nato’s summit next year will not be an event specially convened to discuss the long-awaited Afghan ‘closure’. It will just be a routine two-yearly gathering of the world’s 28 ‘militant’ leaders representing this sole military alliance, which claims to be a ‘coalition for peace’, but, in effect, it is a war machine that keeps waging wars, occupying countries, changing regimes and brandishing economic and military threats. In its biennial summit meetings, Nato traditionally addresses a whole range of security agenda within the purview of its global outreach. Afghanistan is just one of its military adventures gone wrong. Since the Lisbon 2010 Summit, this issue has been at the centre stage of Nato’s deliberations with most of its members losing patience over the costly war with no end in sight. The Lisbon decision became the basis for a phased military withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011 as a prelude to the transition plan with an eye on ending their combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014. This decision was reaffirmed at the 2012 Chicago Summit that discussed many other global issues, including the ongoing financial crisis, European ballistic missile defence and nuclear deterrence issues, the heated Arab Spring, Libyan civil war and Nato’s policies of military support for active insurrections in the region such as Syria as well as the nuclear standoff with Iran. Next year’s Nato Summit, the venue and dates of which are yet to be decided, will no doubt discuss the same issues again, while also focusing on the “final chapter in its Afghan operations.” Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sounded overoptimistic in expecting the mission in Afghanistan next year to reach an “important milestone” with the withdrawal of combat troops and transition to training, advising and assisting posture. “Our goal is in sight,” he said, defining that goal for “an Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet.” He was at pains in reassuring the Afghans that even after withdrawal, they will not stand alone. Likewise, President Obama also said: “We are prepared for an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.” It is anticipated that at least 10,000 if not more troops will still remain in the war-ravaged country on the pretext of a “training mission” to ensure that “Afghan security forces are effective and can control their own borders and that Nato members can be assured that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for terrorism in the future.” Beyond these wishful calculations, one does not see any genuine peace plan much less a coherent dialogue strategy for a political settlement in Afghanistan. At least till now, there has been no serious effort or fresh thinking in Washington for talks with Taliban whose incentive to negotiate is also lessening as time passes with the US departure deadline fast approaching. Meanwhile, the transition process under which the Afghans are to take “full control of their own security” is also nowhere in sight. There are serious doubts on the feasibility of recruiting and training as many as 400,000 Afghan security forces to take over as the foreign troops start pulling out. No transition process can work in Afghanistan, unless it is built on the country’s demographic reality and is not weighted in favour of, or against, any particular ethnic group. The enormity of the problem is aggravated by challenges of corruption, predatory behaviour and incompetence within the Afghan army and police. On top of these problems, there is also the question of money and resources. The annual cost of maintaining the Afghan forces is estimated at up to $10 billion, whereas Afghan tax revenue totals less than $2 billion, which leaves a huge gap to be filled by the American taxpayer. Questions already abound in Washington on why the Americans must pay in propping up corrupt Afghan rulers like Hamid Karzai. Faced with an economic crisis at home, Obama knows the limits on his own military budget. The cost of any counterinsurgency plan left on autopilot would be a minimum of $1 trillion over 10 years. So “who will pay the bills to avoid having those armed soldiers and police mobilised as part of the next insurgency?” Senator John Kerry was blunt enough to ask at a congressional hearing last year. He also questioned what he described a “fundamentally unsustainable” monthly expenditure of more than $10 billion on a massive military operation with no end in sight. Against this backdrop, apparently, the US is looking only for a tactical Afghan ‘stalemate’ in which it can withdraw by December 2014, but not entirely. It plans to keep a certain size of military presence as a ‘counterterrorism’ mission. Those familiar with Afghan history know what it means for any foreign presence on its soil beyond 2014, no matter under what arrangement or nomenclature. Whatever the Afghan endgame Washington and its Nato allies may be pursuing to get out of Afghanistan, one thing is clear: the Afghan conflict will not be resolved at Nato conferences. The Afghan solution lies only in Afghanistan where the Afghans alone are the arbiters of their destiny. The people of Afghanistan have suffered for too long as victims of foreign-imposed wars and deserve peace sooner rather than later. And the Afghans are not the only victim of the Afghan tragedy. Pakistan too has suffered immeasurably in terms of refugee influx, socio-economic burden, rampant terrorism, unabated violence and protracted conflict in its border areas with Afghanistan. There is no country with deeper stakes in Afghan peace or more relevant credentials as an unrivalled player in any intra-Afghan dialogue or reconciliation. Meanwhile, there are clear signs of fatigue and frustration among Nato partners, who are increasingly becoming mindful of the war-led fiscal pressures in Europe and elsewhere, and also of the growing public opposition to a costly and unwinnable war in which they could not defeat the Afghan Taliban even after 12 years of fighting. France has already withdrawn its troops, while most other Nato members are also looking for an early exit. It is, perhaps, against this self-indicting backdrop that next year’s Nato Summit will review the “final chapter” in its long Afghan war.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.