Pakistan’s presence at the summit will benefit the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, because the country is seen as crucial to striking a peace deal with the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan that would allow foreign troops to withdraw without the nation descending into further chaos. Insofar as the NATO summit per se is concerned, its significance can hardly be underplayed.
For, like the Bonn summit on Afghanistan, the agenda before it is essentially about how to achieve long-term stability in Afghanistan. This is a goal shared not just by the US and its NATO allies, but also, and perhaps more importantly, by Afghanistan and Pakistan as two countries which have suffered enormously due to insurgency, terrorism and war.
Two years ago at Lisbon, NATO members had agreed to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and hand over security responsibility to Afghanistan by the end of 2014. On May 2, a date that marked the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the US and Afghanistan concluded a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), under which a limited number of US military forces will continue be stationed in Afghanistan for a decade beyond 2014.
The withdrawal process continues, with around 130,000 US and NATO troops still present in Afghanistan and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) currently numbering 152,000. With Australia, France and other US allies deciding to withdraw their troops much earlier than the agreed deadline of 2014, the issue of Afghanistan’s security transition has assumed greater significance. The Afghan government plans to takeover security responsibility of 75 percent of Afghanistan within six months, while NATO estimates this period of transferring the country’s security responsibility may extend to another six months or a year.
Thus, one important challenge for NATO countries at the Chicago summit pertains to the modalities of Afghanistan’s security transition by the end of 2014, given the insistence of US allies on earlier withdrawal timetable. However, since the US has already gone ahead with a strategic pact with Afghanistan, the summit faces a bigger challenge of how to secure sustained and concrete support from all NATO members for the Afghan project for a decade beyond 2014.
At the Bonn summit, the Afghan government had demanded a sum of $10 billion annual commitment to the war-torn country until 2025. The international donors had reportedly come up with a “lukewarm response” to the Afghan request. As specified in the SPA, Afghanistan will need to spend on its security some $4.1 billion annually. The US may need a quarter of this amount, around $1 billion annually, from its NATO allies. Securing their willingness to foot this bill amid economic recession will, therefore, be the key challenge before NATO leaders.