KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A new strategic partnership that commits the U.S. to defend Afghanistan militarily for 10 years after most foreign forces leave in 2014 is intended to signal that the U.S. will not tolerate a resurgent al-Qaida or attacks launched by militants from neighboring Pakistan.
The agreement, parts of which were read out Monday in the Afghan parliament, is big on symbolism but light on substance. It leaves out specifics, including how much funding the U.S. will provide to support Afghan security forces or how many U.S. troops will stay on after the withdrawal deadline.
Afghanistan, for its part, insisted on approving any American military operations after 2014 and barred the U.S. from using its soil to attack other countries, such as neighboring Pakistan, where the Taliban, al-Qaida and al-Qaida-linked militants all have staging bases.
"In the end, of course, the U.S. and allied interests differ from those of most Afghans," said Andrew Exum, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.
"The United States is most concerned with dismantling al-Qaida, while Afghans are most concerned with what infrastructure and financing the United States and its allies will provide beyond 2014."
After 10 years of U.S.-led war, insurgents linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida remain a threat and as recently as a week ago launched a large-scale attack on the capital, Kabul, and three other cities. Both groups operate from within Afghanistan, as well as from across the border in Pakistan.
It took 18 months of painstaking, often tense negotiations to hammer out the accord, which was reached Sunday and lays out for the first time the relationship the U.S. will have with Afghanistan once the majority of U.S. troops have gone home. It builds on hard-won understandings reached recently on the controversial issues of control over detainees and the conduct of night raids by U.S. special forces.
Exum said the Obama administration had hoped to have the agreement finalized last summer, but Afghan leaders — notably President Hamid Karzai — were reluctant to agree to a continued U.S. military presence beyond 2014.
"The United States and the government of Afghanistan were able to find enough common ground to get an agreement on tough issues such as detainees, basing rights, and the so-called night raids. This is a real diplomatic achievement for the Obama administration," Exum said.
The accord is meant to reassure the Afghan people that the U.S. won't abandon them, to send a warning to the Taliban and to serve notice to Pakistan, which many analysts believe has been waiting for a U.S. withdrawal that would allow the Taliban to reassert power, giving Islamabad strategic control over its neighbor.
There have also been fears that Afghanistan's rival ethnic groups, including those that make up the Northern Alliance that defeated the Pashtun Taliban, would again fight for power and influence. A similar struggle after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 nearly destroyed the country.
"This continued international military presence, however, will hopefully arrest some of the momentum toward another civil war and will also hopefully force Pakistani decision makers to re-examine their own long-standing assumptions about the long-term U.S. and allied commitment to Afghanistan," Exum said.
The Afghan parliament got a first look at the strategic partnership agreement after the country's national security adviser read out portions of it Monday in the lower house. The full agreement has not been made public.
The document — which still has to go through internal reviews and be signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Karzai — commits the U.S. to defend Afghanistan from any outside interference via "diplomatic means, political means, economic means and even military means," national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta told the assembled parliamentarians. He stressed that any such actions would be taken only with Afghan agreement.
The draft was initialed by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Spanta on Sunday and is to be signed before a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.
Many Afghans have expressed worries that the U.S. wants permanent bases, a setup that would make it more of an occupying force than an ally. Spanta said that specific decisions about bases will be left to the later deal.