The entire international community is anxiously waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama to make his much delayed decision on expanding U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Now that a "victorious" President Hamid Karzai is set to run his country for a further five years, all the United States' allies, including Japan, need to know what the White House intends to do over Afghanistan.
No boosting of U.S. and NATO military strength is likely, though, to do much to correct the realities on the ground. Afghanistan remains a desperately poor, corrupt and weak entity run by a series of warlords and the Taliban are not going to give up without an almighty protracted struggle.
The Obama administration is saddled with a war it is unlikely to win, while championing a government in Kabul that takes the biscuit for misbehavior. Even U.S. spokesmen are now admitting that President Karzai is on probation with just six months to demonstrate that he is serious about undertaking a comprehensive reform program.
Yet even starting up any such venture would require major shifts in policy, given that the president's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is top of the American nasty list as a suspected drug operator. It is widely held that he is in charge of Afghanistan's lucrative heroin trade, though President Karzai insists that any such claims remain unsubstantiated. The fact that it is proving difficult to persuade the president to remove the man running southern Afghanistan underlines the difficulties the United States faces in cleaning up a state where corruption is so deeply embedded in the political and social environments.
All the allies of the United States will take their cue from Obama's much delayed decision to review the requests from Gen Stanley McChrystal for major troop reinforcements. For its part, the new Japanese coalition under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama appears to be about to offer civilian assistance for Kabul, though its Maritime Self-Defense vessels will soon be returning from back-up duties off the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is facing more strident criticism as casualties continue to mount, has made it clear that it is most unlikely that British troops would remain in Afghanistan if Washington were at some future date to begin a withdrawal.
Getting out, though, is not on the cards for now. Neither the United States nor NATO is about to pack it in, although fresh casualties and a general public unwillingness to believe that their security at home rests on what happens in the foothills of Southwest Asia will almost certainly make a coherent defense of Allied policies in Afghanistan increasingly difficult.
Obama has probably between 12 to 18 months on demonstrate that his generals have sufficient counter-insurgency measures in place in order to announce that an independent, less corrupt and more open Afghanistan can now take care of itself. If not, the American electorate may decide the fate of his government and its policies. The clock is ticking and the omens for the Obama administration are deteriorating.© Japan Today