The Afghan conundrum is becoming rather problematic for the Obama Administration. The latest opinion polls indicate that 52 percent Americans are upset at the costs entailed by the operation, as against the likely benefits in the future after some version of 'victory for the US gets consolidated. Despite such disillusionment with the major theatre of war in which the US is bogged down, President Barack Obamas approval ratings are not much affected. This could be a tribute to his integrity and commitment to promote the welfare of citizens wherever possible, even in a winding down economy. Moreover, unlike his predecessor, he is not seen as being a powerful lobbys man out-and-out. That is why Obama engages with the world to promote US interests in whatever way he deems fit. Even his worst enemies, who takes stupid digs at him day in and day out at Fox News, do not talk of him as being loyal to a lobby or a 'special interest. He may be making mistakes but these mistakes fit into the pattern of thinking promoted by being an American - a Democrat - and the stuff being fed to him by the State Department, DOD, CIA and NSC. However, the sum total of the American perspective represents the dilemma that the US faces at home. The ground realities in Afghanistan are equally puzzling. President Hamid Karzai, US acolyte, who still has many Albatrosses around his neck, wants to hold a peace jirga by the end of the current month. In addition to inviting all tribal leaders, he wishes to engage the Taliban in this process openly, so as to be able to launch a grand effort at reconciliation with the alienated brothers in line with the local traditions. The US administration has generally kept aloof from such an initiative; while Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretary Robert Gates have expressed their reservations in the media. Ostensibly, the Taliban have spurned the offer made by Karzai, who is treated as somebody who cannot take any decision on his own. Moreover, as the status quo falters, the Afghans tend to question whatever is going on amid corruption and maladmin-istration. This raises their ire not only against Karzai, but also against his US patrons. It appears as if Karzai has the quiet backing of the US, who is maintaining a benevolent hope that the incumbent president will be able to 'beg, borrow or steal some sort of peace. This could ultimately cut their losses, to start with through an understanding that is most feasible for the US in the hole which it has dug up in the last nine years, thanks to the neo-cons and their oil lobby accomplices. Amid news of large-scale distribution of money by the US forces and contractors as 'goodwill money in south, and even north, the casualties suffered by them appear to have come down lately. While the US media have been projecting this development as a sign of disarray and 'shortages of arms and ammunition, it remains a riddle for an average observer down here. However, news from Kandahar indicates that the Taliban are also setting up a strategy to put up a brave resistance to the much trumpeted operation, which is due to be launched against them by the foreign forces in June, as per their programme. It makes another catch 22 in this way that while Karzai is pursuing the launch of a peace jirga by the end of May; his mentors hope to storm Kandahar in June. Apparently, both the programmes are at cross purposes. Karzai is currently visiting Washington DC for meetings in which a final throw of dice may decide what is coming for his country. On the hindsight, any course of action adopted is going to benefit or hurt the US too, as it will be very difficult for it to walk away from the quagmire like it did after the fall of Soviet Empire in Kabul or more so the way they abandoned Vietnam. In the current situation, Afghanistan has too much importance for the US and its interests. The country is the gateway to the huge energy resources lying ready to be traded with technological investment. This is besides the colossal deposits known to be herded in the Caspian Sea. If the US fails to utilise these with the willing cooperation of the local partners, others in the area may find some way of turning 'gold-diggers, as the demand for energy remains intact despite the economic meltdown. Moreover, backtracking by the US in Afghanistan would raise new spectres, perhaps genuine ones, for itself as well as the regional countries that supported it since 9/11. Now the Afghans generally have mixed feelings for the US, and resentment against the foreign forces is building up openly. History proves that the Afghans have always displayed a curious mix. They can wait up to a hundred years or even more to take revenge against any offender. Secretary Defence Robert Gates appears to be conscious of the back-breaking costs borne by the public exchequer since 9/11. In the last nine years, thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the DOD budget had, at least, doubled. Addressing a function held at the Eisenhower Presidential Library to mark the 65th anniversary of the German surrender, he said: I do think that as we look to the future, particularly for the next couple of years or so while were in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think the Congress and the president would look long and hard at another military operation that would cost us $100 billion a year. The US secretary defence is an old hand who has been associated with handling Afghanistan since the 80s, being then in CIA. His experience of history could be far more rewarding than most of his colleagues. History underlines generally one thing i.e. that one cannot conquer Afghanistan and hold on to it. Besides the cost in terms of dollars, the bad blood provoked by the post 9/11 attacks by the Bush administration can turn out to be far costlier. As its people are dying, the US is losing goodwill in Pakistan; the governments hidden logic notwithstanding. The writer is a former interior secretary.