Both President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai, meeting in Washington on Friday, acknowledged the indispensable nature of Pakistan’s role in restoring peace in the region. In Obama’s words, “As President Karzai has indicated it is very hard to imagine stability and peace in the region if Pakistan and Afghanistan do not come to some basic agreement and understanding about the threat of extremism to both countries and both governments.” He went on to appreciate the greater awareness of this reality that Islamabad had of late been showing.

Several other issues of significance about the impact of the withdrawal of American troops by the end of 2014 on the state of militancy in the region also came up for discussion during a long sitting between the US and Afghan Presidents. Believing that a sufficiently large number of the Afghan forces have acquired the capability to take up, on their own, the task of the country’s security, the US has decided to pass on that responsibility to them by the next spring rather than later as it had earlier planned. The US troops would then be left with “training, advising and assisting” the Afghan forces. The question about the strength of troops that would stay behind once the bulk of the army has left for home has been agitating the minds of leaders in both the US and Afghanistan. Even a proposal of total withdrawal, probably reflecting the thinking of Obama and Chuck Hagel, who has been nominated by the President as the next Secretary of Defence, and certainly some Congressmen, is being hotly debated by the political circles in Washington these days. However, fearing that without a sizeable US presence violence might flare up to uncontrollable proportions, President Karzai is vehemently against the idea; in fact, to forestall its recurrence, he has been on record demanding suitable presence well beyond 2014 after the foreign forces have ended combat operations. But the Pentagon’s insistence that its troops enjoy immunity from prosecution under Afghan laws amounts to giving them a licence to pursue militants the way they want and recalls the dreadful nightly raids. This is too ticklish an issue to settle easily.

Reverting to Pakistan’s role in bringing about peace and stability in the region, one must say that, considering nearly 2,500km long, mountainous and largely open border and the common ethnicity of insurgents straddling it, there should have been no doubt about its paramount importance as well as its sincerity in pursing that goal. Besides, the sacrifice of 40,000 civilians and 5,000 soldiers in the fight against terrorism adequately defines Islamabad’s commitment. While nothing can recompense this tragedy, the pity is that the US hardly appreciates, let alone help rebuild, its economy that has suffered a minimum estimated loss of $70 billion.