New Delhi: The United States won’t withdraw but keep about 10,000 troops all through next year in Afghanistan and just over half of them in 2017. Is this a good decision and is it enough? It is a good decision. But it won’t suffice. Afghanistan needs more US troops and a different battle plan.

Some misimpressions need to be cleared first. Afghanistan cannot defend itself from external aggression (read Pakistan) and internal threats (Pakistan-sponsored terrorism). A nation to defend itself must have a continuous national history. There must be a national identity and national aims to strive for. Afghanistan is bereft in this respect.

Afghanistan predominantly remains a tribal society though continuous democratic modernization and peace could change that in one or two generations. Afghanistan is also riven with ethnic rivalries which all foreign powers and occupiers have exploited at one time or another. Pashtun predominance is resented by others and allows for foreign interference. The Taliban and the Islamic State are predominantly Pashtun. The Pashtuns grudgingly take Pakistan’s help which keeps them away from their dream of a greater Pashtun state encompassing Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

Afghans would be able to defend themselves when all these differences are resolved. A national army takes its orders from a national government. A national government must have legitimacy, vision and strength. This is far from the situation obtaining in Afghanistan. The Afghan national government’s writ does not extend beyond the capital, Kabul. Even Kabul is periodically attacked by the Taliban. Beyond the capital, the countryside is controlled by warlords owing allegiance to various terror groups. How can any national army fight a united war in this situation? If there is no Afghanistan that answers to the description of a nation, how can there be a true national army?

This is Afghanistan’s real problem. It is not clear if the US understands this. Forging Afghanistan into a nation is not a fool’s errand. But it will take more than the two years President Obama is willing to commit US troops in Afghanistan. It will take twenty to thirty years. Nation-building is a slow, painstaking process. Is President Obama prepared for this? Is America? Afghanistan needs long-term US and NATO troops’ commitments to become a nation, only after which it can defend itself externally and internally. President Obama should think beyond the 10,000 troops he has approved for 2016, because it will take a much larger force to pacify the country.

Speaking of which, there has to be a final solution to Pakistan meddling in Afghanistan. It needs a different US game plan. The George W. Bush administration came close to deploying US special forces in a counterterrorism role in FATA but Pakistan scuttled the plan. It should be resurrected. Pakistan is the breeding ground for Afghan terrorists. Unless the terror tap is turned off in Pakistan, Afghanistan will not stabilize. A modernized hammer-and-anvil strategy against the terrorists on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border could be a game-changer besides intensified drone attacks. The ISI must be brought under civilian leadership and purged of terrorism.

The United States must work on long-term Afghan goals which are the only way to make a success of its intervention. Pakistan has to be transformed into a state that shuns terrorism and violence and keeps within its borders. Merely declaring that the war is over does not end it. President Obama must be more responsible in his declarations as the leader of the world’s sole superpower.