President Barack Obama has one eye on Afghanistan and one eye at home as he prepares to seek a second term in office. With America still trying to claw its way out of the economic doldrums and with the conflict in Afghanistan presenting an invoice of nearly $2 billion (Dh7.34 billion) a week, the US president has commenced his moves across the political chessboard that lies before him.
By forecasting that his military had made substantial gains against Al Qaida and to some extent against the Taliban, Obama announced that 33,000 troops will be sent home no later than September next year. This announcement came earlier than was previously forecast and herein lies proof of Obama's decision to ingratiate himself with the American public.
The White House must walk the tightrope between cutting back on troops against the cost of the gains that the military has made. Which explains why a fresh channel has now been opened — dialogue with the Taliban in an attempt to bring them back into Afghanistan's mainstream.
Obama's announcement of troop cutbacks is sure to inspire other leaders who have sent troops under the umbrella of Nato to do the same. This is where Afghan President Hamid Karzai will have to display his political acumen: to ensure that Afghan forces have the necessary wherewithal to protect their own country and guarantee its stability.
Realistically, there are only a few months of conflict left before the advent of a severe winter, which is why the US and its allies must establish their gains while holding out an opportunity for substantial negotiations with the Taliban.
The key would be to bargain by holding the aces rather than allowing the Taliban to drive their own schedule and later push Karzai to the wall. Both parties will adopt the carrot-and-stick approach but the Taliban have very little to lose.