Last Friday, President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met to discuss troop withdrawal and the possibility of leaving behind residual forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014, but the future of Afghanistan remains unsteady: The country is facing the imminent threat of Taliban’s resurgence. Despite a decade of American intervention, Mullah Omar, Taliban’s spiritual leader, is still alive and leading from his hideouts in Pakistan. Both presidents have officially recognized Taliban’s office in Qatar, predicting their possible return to power.

From a perspective of an Afghan who was persecuted under Taliban era, this news isn’t very encouraging. This also holds true from the perspective of an American. Is it fair to let go the lives of more than 2,000 U.S. servicemen and women who died in the war? Moreover, the million-dollar question now is whether Taliban would bow down to the democratic constitution of Afghanistan backed by the United States or follow their version of Sharia law. Despite that, frustration on the part of the American public led to a push for withdrawal as early as spring 2013, ahead of the scheduled summer 2013.

But as American troops depart Afghanistan, they leave behind a widely corrupt government, which is an exemplary model of nepotism and cronyism. The current Karzai administration has benefited the most out of the U.S. presence. With the taxpayer’s money, most of the Afghan officials have bought villas in Dubai and transferred large amounts of cash to their bank accounts outside of Afghanistan. Karzai and his staff do not have much at stake whether the United States stays or leaves. By April 2014, Afghanistan will hold its presidential election. Karzai’s term will expire, and, as he promised, he will step down. He and most of his leading cabinet members will most likely seek refuge in a Western country even long before the last U.S. service member leaves Afghanistan.

The face of post-Karzai leadership is uncertain. Chances are slim that a Western-educated Afghan technocrat would be able to accomplish a majority’s vote. The dominant group composed of the former Northern Alliance will most likely have an upper hand in the election. Apart from the widespread corruption they will inherit, the Northern Alliance, a longtime Taliban rival, would further ignite the ethnic tensions. Northern Alliance is predominantly Tajik, while Taliban are largely Pashtuns, provoking the Taliban’s commitment to weaken the Kabul Government. Chances are also very small that both rivals will be able to work together in an effective fashion if a coalition government is to be formed.

With such a background, the only hope for Afghans is to feel some kind of assurance from the United States — that is, to have U.S. presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Fortunately, Obama’s administration is weighing its options and is currently in negotiation with the Afghan government regarding the immunity of U.S. forces so they are not subject to Afghan laws. It’s very likely that the Afghan government would grant such approval. A presence of U.S. forces would keep an eye on a different faction within the country, in hopes of de-escalating violence. Such a presence would also force the Taliban to put aside their dream of taking over Kabul.

However, the U.S. government must put more pressure on Afghan officials both pre- and post-2014 to curb corruption within the government and to publicly prosecute high-level corrupt officials. Without a transparent and public-service-oriented institution, the outlook for Afghanistan will still be bleak.

Asad Pasoon is a Rackham student.

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