After more than a year of tense negotiations, the U.S. and Afghanistan have reached a draft agreement defining America's role in the country after U.S. and NATO troops officially withdraw in 2014. Neither side has released specifics of the deal, and President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have yet to approve the partnership framework, but an initial picture has emerged. Here, a brief guide:
What does the draft agreement say?
The U.S. is essentially pledging to support Afghanistan for another 10 years after the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. troops. The deal is being touted as a signal — to both the Afghan people and insurgents — that the U.S. isn't going to abandon the fight against the Taliban.
How exactly will America "support" Afghanistan?
That remains to be worked out. For instance, Karzai has requested financial promises from Western countries — $2 billion a year from the U.S. alone — to support Afghan security forces, but many nations are waiting for the U.S. to make a long-term commitment before they sign on the dotted line. So while the agreement is a step in the right direction — for a while it looked like Washington and Kabul wouldn't be able to work out a deal at all — it will remain mostly symbolic until specifics regarding U.S funds and remaining troop support are hammered out.
Why were the negotiations so difficult?
Karzai refused even to participate for months, insisting that the U.S. first had to halt controversial night raids and hand over control of its main military prison. (Other deals removed these obstacles.) And negotiations were nearly scuttled repeatedly by a string of surprise setbacks, including the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers, a civilian massacre allegedly perpetrated by an American sergeant, and, most recently, the release of photos showing American soldiers posing with the corpses of Afghan insurgents.
So... how big of a breakthrough is this, really?
Plenty of hurdles remain, says Alissa J. Rubin at The New York Times, but this pact "builds on hard-won new understandings" the countries reached against long odds. Maybe, says Steve Hynd at The Agonist, but with so few details, all we're really doing is agreeing to disagree later, "raising suspicions that it's merely an attempt to paper over the cracks" ahead of a May 20 NATO summit.