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This week U.S. President Barack Obama faces a real test of his powers of persuasion when he attends a NATO summit and presses his allies to step up their presence in Afghanistan. Success depends not only on his words but also on the new strategy his administration has adopted to stabilize that embattled country. It promises to be an uphill battle.

Even before he took office, Mr. Obama insisted that Afghanistan was critical to the safety and security of the West. He makes a good case. The Taliban government in Kabul had actively supported Mr. Osama bin Laden and provided sanctuary for his al-Qaida movement. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a U.S.-led invasion drove the Taliban from power, but the defeat was not total. Before the group could be completely eliminated, Washington shifted its focus to Iraq. The Taliban, Mr. Bin Laden and his supporters found shelter on both sides of the border with Pakistan, regrouped and regained strength.

In recent months, they have become increasingly assertive and successful in challenging the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the 2001 invasion. The Kabul government has limited control over territory in the country.

Mr. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to South Asia, warns that Afghanistan’s is not the only future at stake: “The people we are fighting in Afghanistan, and the people they are sheltering in western Pakistan, pose a direct threat. Those are the men of 9/11, the people who killed Benazir Bhutto. And you can be sure that, as we sit here today, they are planning further attacks on the United States and our allies.”

Since taking office, Mr. Obama has reviewed U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. That review concluded that Afghanistan is a vital security interest and that more resources should be devoted to stabilizing the country. But it also found that success in Afghanistan requires policymakers to take a regional approach. That means eliminating Taliban strongholds and sympathizers in the frontier regions with Pakistan. That cannot be done in complete disregard of Pakistan’s own sovereign interests: The government in Islamabad must be part of the solution. It also means bringing Iran into negotiations, as well as India, both of which have vital interests in Afghanistan’s future.

Defeating the military arm of the Taliban and al-Qaida remains critical. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has committed an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan; this supplements a contingent of 38,000 U.S. soldiers already on the ground. Ultimately, however, the Afghan army must be able to protect the country: The U.S. plan calls for an increase in Afghan troop strength from 80,000 to 134,000 by 2011.

The policy review also concluded that a purely military approach will not succeed. As a start, Mr. Obama will send 4,000 more troops to help train the Afghan army and police. More civilian personnel will be dispatched to help develop the economy and establish a government that puts the interest of the nation before personal enrichment.

The U.S. is realistic about what its allies can contribute. Europe has already deployed 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, and there is great resistance to increasing that number. Instead, Mr. Obama wants NATO to provide support for the upcoming Afghan elections by training security forces and providing development aid. He seeks $2 billion annually to pay for those efforts. Thus far, only $25 million is in the trust fund.

Japan is playing its part. This country has disbursed $1.2 billion in grants over the last few years to Afghanistan. Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged another $500 million after meeting Mr. Obama in February in Washington. These funds will pay the salaries of some 80,000 Afghan police offices for six months, build an additional 200 schools and train 10,000 teachers. Japan has already built or repaired 500 schools and trained 10,000 teachers. Japanese money has built 50 medical clinics; under future commitments 100 more clinics will be built and 7.6 million children will be vaccinated against polio, tuberculosis and other diseases.

A final prong of the new U.S. strategy includes reaching out to moderate members of the Taliban, to see if a place for them can be made in the power structure in Afghanistan. Hardline members of the group are implacably hostile to any government in Kabul that they don’t control and have vowed never to negotiate. Others, perhaps even a majority, might be persuaded to put down their arms if local needs are met. The key now is identifying those potential allies, figuring out what they need and then delivering it.

Much rests on elections scheduled for August. This ballot must not be compromised. Failure to hold free and fair elections would undermine all that has been accomplished since the Taliban were driven from power. The legitimacy of the government in Kabul is the final thread that holds the country together. If that snaps, no new strategy will ever succeed.

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