NATOs plan to handover control of security in Afghanistan to the Afghan forces by the end of 2014 is in line with the popular sentiment amongst several western nations, which contribute contingents towards the ISAF. NATO has announced that it could also halt combat operations by 2014, if security conditions were good enough. However, the Pentagon has declared that NATOs timeline for ending the operations was an aspirational deadline. Richard Holbrooke said: 2014 did not mark the end of international presence in Afghanistan.There will be continued economic assistance, there will be continued training of the Afghan army and police. A Pentagon progress report on Afghanistan, presented to the US Congress, and released last week, indicates that despite the surge of 30,000 soldiers, progress has been modest and the insurgency continues to expand. Likewise, President Hamid Karzai is of the view that military surge has been unhelpful, turning the Afghan cities into garrisons and alienating the local population. He envisages the end of war through talks with Iran and Pakistan, and is also trying to end the war through triangulation by mediating between the NATO and the Taliban leadership. The Taliban have also responded: It is good news for Afghans and all freedom-loving people of the world, and it is a sign of failure for the American government.In the past nine years, the invaders could not establish any system of governance in Kabul and they will never be able to do so in future. Furthermore, while endorsing NATOs decision, Pakistan has cautioned against any pullout that does not acknowledge ground realities, like the low quality soldiers that a hasty numerical built-up of the Afghan security forces is churning out. Besides professional competence, their motivation is rather questionable. NATO plans to hand over most of the security responsibilities to the Afghan forces, maybe province-by-province. A part of the troops shall be withdrawn; the rest would be re-designated as trainers or advisors. The Afghan soldiers would be asked to do hard combat, while the NATO/ISAF troops would restrict themselves to the garrisons. For America, it is indeed a failing war. The only achievement of a decade long war has been a regime change, that too for the worse. In the same vein, the political dispensation empowered by the US is ineffective in all domains of governance. The foreign forces have neither been able to decimate the military prowess of the Taliban, nor eliminate their leaders. America only has a fragile control over Kabul and some of Northern Alliance areas. On the other hand, the reach of the Taliban is countrywide; they appoint their own governors, collect revenues, administer justice and provide security to the public at large. People prefer to deal with the Taliban-appointed officials and police, rather than the Karzai government representatives and police. Indeed, the Taliban govern rural Afghanistan. As they are an effective mobile guerrilla force, they do not need to hold the area for governing; the aura of their ubiquitous presence is sufficient to enforce their writ. As mentioned above, the US has failed to hold most of Afghanistan; it could hardly rebuild or raise infrastructure. It may have spent a lot of money, but that has been going to the coffers of the Taliban via dubious security contractors. Reconstruction projects were outsourced to the Indians, who have done a poor job, since the projects are overpriced and workmanship is shoddy, akin to the Commonwealth Games Village. More so, India has been less interested in rebuilding and more in wielding greater influence in Afghanistan than Pakistan and China. The US warriors are now looking for a scapegoat and are planning some sideline fireworks to claim a 'victorious exit. It is in this context that the US is pressurising Pakistan to expand its drone attacks in Quetta, where it thinks the Taliban leadership is based. The Obama administration believes that Quetta is not only a sanctuary for the Taliban leaders, but is also a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to the militants inside Afghanistan. Also, the US wants to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas. While rejecting the request, Pakistan has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded intelligence sharing in Quetta. A Pakistani official said: They want to increase the size of the boxes (drone operations areas); they want to relocate the boxes.I dont think we are going to go any further. The official has pointed out: Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash. Despite this, the US has little regard for Pakistans internal security problems. A NATO military official said: If they understand our side, they know the patience is running out, while in response a high-ranking Pakistani official maintained: You expect us to open the skies for anything that you can fly In which country can you do that? The two sides also disagree sharply over the importance of the Quetta Shura, the leadership council led by Mullah Omar that presides over some factions of the Afghan Taliban. The term Quetta Shura itself is mythical, coined by the US to embarrass Pakistan. No insurgency has ever been able to sustain itself without sanctuaries in adjoining states. So, the success of the COINs commander depends on sealing off the borders with contiguous states before starting the campaign. For example, the Soviets did not block the Durand Line, and thus failed to outsmart the mujahideen. Americans committed the same cardinal sin; now they are in a catch-22 scenario against the militants and this strategic blunder has cost them. However, they continue to insist that they are winning; as a cover up, they have resorted to the 'surge series. In the bargain, the war got 'Americanised, and now defeat or victory would be an American victory or defeat. Commanders of COIN forces usually fall into the trap of hitting the jackpot by crossing over the border of adjacent states. However, such hot pursuit operations rarely bring success. The Soviets too had frequently and intensively bombarded the Pakistani side of the border during the Cold War, but failed to defeat the mujahideen or impede the flow of logistics. Then the US crossed into Laos and Cambodia, yet lost the war in Vietnam. The new strategy, which seeks to create an environment for a political solution to allow the US to initiate the withdrawal of its forces in July 2011, needs the nod of powerful Taliban leaders, whom the Americans wish to bomb in Quetta. Despite the trauma of nine years, it is unfortunate that the US administration continues to underestimate the Talibans skills. Therefore, the well orchestrated incremental approach of pressurising Pakistan is open-ended. With each military setback, there would be a desire to expand the operations deep into the Pakistani territory. Pakistan needs to put its foot down and prevent the trigger-happy 'runaway forces from any misadventure. The withdrawal framework incorporates an escape clause through embedded ambiguity; NATO and Pentagon are not on the same page. Undoubtedly, the Americans need to come clean about their intentions, cease military operations and engage in a meaningful political process; otherwise their 'grace may erode with each passing day. The writer is a retired air commodore of the PAF. Email: