President Barack Obama in his address at West Point on December 01 finally came out with his long awaited Afghanistan policy. Looked at closely, the policy that he has outlined embodies an exit strategy on honourable terms. To achieve that goal, the US would increase its troop strength in Afghanistan by 30,000 in the first half of 2010 besides asking its allies to contribute more troops to dismantle Al-Qaeda safe havens and dominate militarily the Taliban, who have gained strength in Afghanistan. Efforts would also be made simultaneously to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan government and security forces to enable them to assume responsibility for Afghanistan's future so that the US can begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July, 2011. The policy would also encourage the Afghan government "to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence." Finally, the policy recognises the importance of partnership with Pakistan for success in Afghanistan and offers continued support for its security and prosperity while expecting Pakistan not to provide "a safe haven for terrorists." There are three questions concerning Obama's Afghanistan policy which deserve special attention. What is its rationale? What are the chances of its success? What will be its likely repercussions on Pakistan? As for the rationale, the fact of the matter is that the US and other coalition troops already in Afghanistan, currently numbering about 100,000, have not succeeded in wresting the military initiative from the Taliban and preventing their resurgence. The question is whether the mere addition of 30,000 troops will bring about a dramatic change in the situation on the ground within a period of 18 months to allow the commencement of the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan? Common sense and past experience suggest that it is unlikely to happen unless this move is accompanied by some other initiatives to increase the chances of the US success. Obama's policy statement indicates two factors which may work to the advantage of the US. The first is the increased emphasis that will be placed on improving the overall effectiveness of the Afghan government to enable it to provide good governance. The second is the US encouragement to the Afghan government to open channels of communication with those Taliban who abandon violence. However, the ability of the Afghan government, operating within the limitations of ethnic and tribal rivalries or conflicts, an inexperienced bureaucracy and ill-trained security forces marred by corruption, to improve its performance significantly over the next 18 months is extremely limited. Realistically speaking, the best that can be hoped for under favourable circumstances is a marginal improvement over the next 18 months in the effectiveness of the Afghan government to provide good governance. Even this limited gain would be possible only if some political initiatives are taken for the amelioration of the underlying conflict between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan. It is in this perspective and the fact that most of the Taliban are Pashtuns that the importance of opening channels of communications to those Taliban, who are willing to enter into negotiations for achieving national reconciliation and establishing a broad-based government in which the different Afghan ethnic communities have their due share in power, becomes self-evident. Such an initiative, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations to lend it greater legitimacy, is indispensable both for overcoming the insurgency in Afghanistan and for improving the effectiveness of the Afghan government. Thus, the chances of success of the new US policy on Afghanistan are inextricably linked with new political initiatives in Afghanistan to go with the enhanced military effort. It remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration will have the wisdom and the courage to take political initiatives for peace in Afghanistan to combine with its military effort to tame Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. The US success in Afghanistan will also be determined partly by its ability to secure the cooperation of the regional countries, especially Pakistan and Iran which have long borders with and vital interests engaged in Afghanistan. President Obama did mention partnership with Pakistan as an essential element for the success of the US policy on Afghanistan. Since both the US and Pakistan have been victims of terrorism, it makes sense for them to cooperate with each other in fighting this menace. This cooperation must be based on an understanding of each other's security concerns and not on one-sided demands by the US on Pakistan to "do more". As the growing frequency of terrorist incidents in Pakistan indicates, it is in our own vital security interest to eliminate the scourge of terrorism in our country. It is also in our own interest to deny Al-Qaeda any sanctuary in our country. At the same time, the US must understand that what it does in Afghanistan affects Pakistan one way or the other. The past US policy of simply punishing the Taliban in Afghanistan, who are mostly Pashtuns, has destabilised our tribal areas because of cross-border tribal links. Therefore, we are within our rights to tell the US that while we are with them in fighting the menace of terrorism, it is vitally important that Washington should combine its military effort in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies with political initiatives to restore peace and stability in that war-torn country. Finally, for any peace settlement in Afghanistan to be enduring it is indispensable that it should enjoy the endorsement of the regional countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran. Unfortunately, Obama's policy statement on Afghanistan ignores the regional dimension of the Afghanistan problem, thereby diminishing its chances of success. What does Obama's Afghanistan policy portend for Pakistan? The reassuring factor is the recognition by the US of the need for an enduring partnership with Pakistan on the foundation of "mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust." We have been told that the US would continue its support for Pakistan's security and prosperity even after peace has been restored in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is obvious that we will continue to face constant pressure from the US for doing more for eliminating the menace of terrorism. We must do whatever we can to combat terrorism. But we should also tell the US that we expect it to "do more" politically to restore peace and stability in Afghanistan while continuing its military effort to defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies. Finally, it is in our interest to cooperate with the US in the smooth realisation of its goal of military withdrawal from Afghanistan in such a manner as defeats Al-Qaeda, restores peace and stability in Afghanistan and prevents external interference in it. Thus, Obama's Afghanistan policy carries both a challenge and an opportunity for the government and the people of Pakistan. It is now for us to face the challenge squarely and seize the opportunity which awaits us. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: