Now is the time for a paradigm shift in international approach towards resolving the Afghanistan issue. This is the moment for a healing touch; it is time for the occupation forces to disengage and leave Afghanistan at that. Left to itself, the country would eventually normalise after some constructive aftershocks.

The international community has wandered in the wilderness to find a viable solution for Afghanistan. Too many cooks have, indeed, spoiled the broth. Everyone had been giving their own vision and wisdom; hardly anyone cared to incorporate the Afghan perspective and sensitivities to the ever-changing recipes. The formulation of the Afghan crisis still continues, emanating from lack of consensus on policy and objective. A late January Pew Research Centre poll indicates that 56 percent of the Americans want the troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible, while just 38 percent believe that they should stay until the country is stabilised.

The symbolic and intangible objectives like democratisation, women empowerment, and law and order have long been forgotten. Tangible ones like the end of corruption and building up of strong security forces have gone astray. A sham electoral process has left a deep scar of betrayal. Reconfiguring of the Afghan state structures has all along been an open ended dream. The existing Constitution does not suit the traditional loose confederation style arrangement; it may last only as long as Afghanistan is under occupation.

It appears that America has abandoned its stated, good-sounding objectives and is working hard to create a ‘mission accomplished’ aura by May this year, when the Nato Summit is to convene in Chicago. However, with the collapse of Istanbul, Bonn and Doha initiatives, as well as the fast-eroding will of Nato, this objective may not be easily achievable.

Last week, President Hamid Karzai officially invited the Taliban leaders to talk directly with his government in the Afghan-led peace process; the bid was publicly supported by the Prime Minister of Pakistan as well. This indicates the two countries’ lack of trust in the US-Taliban talks.

The Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, stated last month that the US troops in Afghanistan would start to finish combat missions in mid-2013; one year prior to earlier deadline. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, also announced his decision to end combat mission of French troops in Afghanistan by the end of next year; this came in response to an incident that took place in the Kapisa province on January 20, in which four French soldiers were killed by an Afghani dressed in the Afghan National Army uniform. Several other Nato members, too, have indicated that they would withdraw troops from Afghanistan ahead of previous schedule. Indeed, this shows an unprecedented eagerness to end the decade-long war. And this change of mind has not come about because of any sense of accomplishment; rather it is born out of the frustration that nothing worthwhile is achievable by prolonging the occupation.

Pakistan factor has all along been overplayed. The Pakistani military has been under pressure to “do more”; it was asked to overstretch itself and engage the targets that the Americans could not dare to do themselves. Unfortunately, a regional approach of involving adjoining neighbours for a durable solution was looked down upon in favour of accommodating the expansionist designs of distant neighbours with a vested interest in employing these irrelevant actors in proxy role. Pakistan has been portrayed in various shades, jockeying between an indispensible facilitator to a stubborn spoiler. The judgments passed on the role of Pakistan have often been subjective and harsh.

The establishment of the Afghan National Army has been another irrelevant venture that has given birth to a conglomerate of feuding armed gangs having strong ethno-sectarian allegiance, rather than national orientation and motivation. To sustain the Afghan security forces an annual cash flow of around $5 billion is required; it is not clear who would underwrite this liability. Drugs have mushroomed as an industry; consumers of its products live in distant lands and huge profits generated by it have created vested interests and powerful mafias that are difficult to deconstruct. Reverting to the non-war economy is another challenge: Afghanistan’s gross GDP in $26 billion as compared to around $113.7 billion war expenditure. Like the drug mafia, beneficiaries of the war-related transactions are too strong to dismantle easily.

Afghanistan continues to be volatile. The recent opening of fire and gunning down of two US senior advisors inside the fortified Afghan Interior Ministry compound has not come as a surprise to Afghanistan watchers. The incident coincided with the widespread demonstrations in Afghan cities to protest the Holy Quran burning at a garbage pit at the American airbase in Bagram.

“Shooting inside the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for ensuring law and order in the country, speaks of Taliban penetration into security entities," said political analyst Rahman Ughlo. The man who killed the American advisors is an employee of the Interior Ministry. However, a Taliban outfit was prompt to claim responsibility for the assault. The protestors have expressed their resentments by shouting slogans and calling for punishment of those responsible for the irreverent act; this call has also been endorsed by President Karzai.

Instead of taking charge of the situation and restoring law and order, the US government reacted in an erratic way by recalling its nationals serving with the Afghan government bodies in and around the capital. That was shortly followed by Britain. For instance, the US commander of Nato/Isaf, General John R. Allen, recalled his forces from Afghan military installations and ministries. "For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other Isaf personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul," said Allen. Certainly, this shows lack of will on the part of the occupation forces to bear responsibility for the outcome of their rash acts.

In the same vein, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said: “The violence will not mean faster troop withdrawal.” The administration’s Spokesmen were at pains to answer the core question of whether to keep fighting a war that has lost support not only in America, but also among the people it has pledged to protect. The perception that the Afghans are ungrateful for the US sacrifice and are turning on their American saviours further complicates the matter. The officials said that they believe President Karzai's fragile government could collapse and the Taliban would regain power if the US were to walk away

"No doubt, shooting inside the Interior Ministry reduces the confidence towards the security apparatus and reduces the trust of the coalition forces and international agencies towards the administration and recalling Nato advisors from the ministries is a proof to the fact," said a Kabul-based security analyst Wahid Mujda. The attack inside the Interior Ministry just months after the attack inside the Defence Ministry is a clear indication of the penetration of militants’ influence into the government bodies, which makes it possible for them to target anyone anytime.

There is a need to go back to the drawing board and work out as to how to restore the status quo ante in Afghanistan. It is an inviolable right of the Afghans to live the way they want to. The international community owes the restoration of this right to the Afghans. Despite the decade-long carnage, all ethnic and sectarian groups are unanimous about the territorial integrity of Afghanistan; surely, it must seize the opportunity and expand on this silver lining.

    The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.

    Email:khalid3408@gmail.com