What must president Barack Obama do about Afghanistan? Elections have been held and whatever the cries about foul play, it is going to be difficult to dislodge Hamid Karzai. He has networked his support and in the interest of Afghan democracy, however imperfect it is, he should not be removed. Some Pakistanis are advising American policy-makers that Karzai should share power to prevent dissent from getting out of hand. Dissent is already out of hand (in the form of the Taliban) and Karzai is not going to rule Afghanistan alone. It is best not to rock Afghanistan's democracy boat further.

On the war front, the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda have the upper hand of the American and NATO forces. Barring the UK, no other NATO country wants its soldiers to really fight the Taliban. So in the end, the burden of fighting disproportionately falls on the US and to an extent the UK. At the same time, you cannot argue it is entirely unexpected (even if it is unfair), because the US commenced the war against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan for 9/ 11, and that legacy cannot be erased.

Anyhow, the United States is now tired of fighting the Afghan war that cannot be won on its present force levels. Some twenty-thousand committed troops are coming, but president Obama won't pledge more without "deliberation". Over the past month, he has been pounded on the healthcare bill and his popularity is plunging within the first year of taking office. The Afghan war is also deeply unpopular as was the Iraq war before. Obama who wants to be a popular president above all else has taken serious note of the fact that a majority of Americans want out of Afghanistan. They no longer accept the argument (which happens to be true) that hunting down the Al-Qaeda and Taliban prevents a repetition of 9/ 11.

Adding to Obama's problem is that conservative, Republican opinion is turning against the Afghan war. The argument is that if after eight years, the US is still bound to lose the war, as every foreign power has in Afghanistan, it is pointless to continue it. The second argument is that if the drones have been particularly successful in neutralizing the Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters lodged in Pakistan's FATA, their operations must be continued without the need for major American troops' deployment. And finally, as before, targeted assassinations of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership can be carried out from US warships without putting American troops in harm's way.

If missile attacks had been so successful against the Al-Qaeda and Taliban, there would have been no necessity to launch Operation Enduring Freedom post-9/ 11, and indeed 9/ 11 may not have happened if the Al-Qaeda leadership had been decimated in earlier US missile attacks. And according to one study, ten civilians are killed by a drone for every terrorist. Drone casualties have heightened anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Besides, drone targeting needs accurate and timely intelligence, and that comes from US presence on the ground and US pressure put on not-so-friendly, pro-Al-Qaeda and pro-Taliban intelligence agencies like the ISI. So where does Obama go on Afghanistan?

Clearly, a change of strategy is necessary, if only to mark that the new American president is thinking new things. One not so new thing but which can be newly persevered with is to deploy American forces in the epicentre of terrorism in FATA. The George W.Bush administration did authorize a US special forces' raid but more were discontinued after Pakistan protested violation of its sovereignty. Sovereignty entails a two-way commitment. You disallow foreign attacks from your soil, and in reciprocation, your territory is not violated. But if you permit or if you are unable to prevent attacks from your soil, then you must bear the consequences of it. As guarantor of Afghan security, the US launches drone attacks in Pakistan. Launching special forces' action would be an extension of that principle. Indeed, Obama promised this on his election campaign, but ultimately followed the Bush plan in Afghanistan.

Pakistan will object to US special operations in FATA as before, but the US should override it. It could plan joint operations with the Pakistan army, to give the military a stake in the campaign so that it is in no position to disown it later, but go into FATA it must. Certainly, Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements will flee into Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially Pakistan, and create fresh terror situations there, but this can be anticipated and contained. Because the US does not go into FATA, the Al-Qaeda and Taliban can play the waiting game -- waiting for the US to tire out in Afghanistan. Once the terrorists know there is no place to hide, only then will the war against them take meaning. The US could consult friendly neighbouring countries like India and those that have a continuing stake in Afghanistan like Russia. Not unless FATA is cleaned up with boots on the ground is there any hope for Afghanistan to stabilize.