ISLAMABAD — The latest U.S. promise to enhance Afghanistan’s security in the years to come raises more questions than it answers for the the war-ravaged country, although the so-called declaration of strategic partnership signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington has certainly pleased the Afghan government.

Karzai claims that Afghanistan now has a U.S. commitment for a partnership extending beyond the central Asian country’s elections on Sept. 18, which are supposed to mark the end of the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan, according to the Bonn agreement in 2001.

Under that agreement, the international community was to take Afghanistan toward economic rehabilitation so that it could consolidate itself with an elected government. Judged by Western standards, Afghanistan has arrived at the point where a representative democracy is around the corner, but stability and continuity remain in question as the country has yet to be rehabilitated economically and faces an intense security challenge amid doubts about whether its government can survive.

Afghanistan is nearly a failed state — where the writ of government vanishes and tribalism dominates society. The latest U.S. promise of support does little to acknowledge the need to shift priorities toward the Central Asian country. Rather than more military deployments to tackle the so-called terrorist threat, Afghanistan needs economic commitments.

More than three years after the New York terrorist attacks catapulted the United States into a “war on terror,” Afghanistan faces challenges that are peculiar to its internal conditions.

The recent Newsweek report (later retracted) that U.S. troops had desecrated the Quran in front of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sparked protests in Afghanistan, too, underscoring the reality that Afghanistan’s character cannot be divorced from currents that influence other Islamic countries.

Karzai, widely believed to have been propped up by the U.S., took the unusual step of speaking out on the issue. Some analysts believe his demand that the U.S. place American troops in Afghanistan under the control of the Kabul government was intended to placate public anger.

Profound questions remain over the extent to which the U.S. and other Western industrialized nations can extend more economic support that benefits the grass-roots population. Afghanistan’s relative improvement in prosperity the past three years has been limited largely to urban centers such as the capital. The majority of the population lives in surroundings that are a reminder of past conflict.

It is not surprising that in the past few years Afghanistan has witnessed the re-emergence of its infamous poppy and drug culture. Across large rural tracts, many Afghans find it convenient to join this culture, having lost out on opportunities to turn to alternative employment. As in any other similarly distressed country, at the end of the day, Afghans desperate to see higher incomes indeed turn to desperate measures.

In the long run, there are two outlooks for Afghanistan:

It can continue on its present trajectory and become a state with only a semblance of government, a center for militant activity with little prospect for stability. While the strategic partnership with the U.S. heralds an era in which the pursuit of militants will remain active, the already diluted public good will toward the U.S. is likely to weaken further.

It can find a route toward increasing stability and prosperity, backed by the U.S.-led international community pushing a progressive reform agenda.

The writing on the wall so far gives few clues to the future.

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