The Straits Times says

US move will safeguard Afghan peace

President Barack Obama's reversal of a cherished pledge to withdraw American troops completely from Afghanistan by the end of his two-term incumbency in 2017 was virtually inevitable after the fall of the key northern city of Kunduz early this month. The capitulation was brief but significant, partly because it was the first city the Taleban had captured since they were driven from power following America's entry into the Afghan war 14 years ago. The Taleban may have held Kunduz for only 72 hours before US-aided Afghan soldiers wrested it back, but the message was clear: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government is simply unready to go it alone militarily. It wouldn't be right to walk away from a partner when the Taleban are threatening to rise from the dead and re-impose their reign of terror.

There are other reasons to support a cautionary pause in America's planned pullout from Afghanistan. A slew of negative developments have emerged recently like the lingering presence of Al-Qaeda and the entry of similar theocratic bands like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Uzbek nationalists in Afghanistan. Add to these the frightening implications of Iraq's implosion as a result of the ISIS blitzkrieg in the Middle East.

Mr Obama's reversal will carry a stiff price domestically if American blood is shed. It also has repercussions for him as he starts his presidential end run during which legacy building is a traditionally keener, if unspoken, concern. A complete exit would have offered Mr Obama a clear-cut foreign policy achievement to complement his considerable domestic efforts to obtain affordable healthcare for all Americans via Obamacare.

Legacy notwithstanding, his reversal - which will keep 5,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan, more than five times the number considered routine for embassy-level security - will, in all likelihood, mean a continued US military involvement in Afghanistan beyond his watch. That is not a bad thing.

Granted, such a presence may encourage the possibility of endless strife for Kabul. But the alternative, of regressing once more to a grisly, feudal Taleban or Taleban-like theocracy, is far worse.

Most vitally, the Afghans have painstakingly sown the secular seeds of a civil and productive society. Women are working alongside men to help grow the economy and develop institutions - in government, universities and in the workplace. Its schools are nurturing some 11 million students, 40 per cent of them girls, and its universities are grooming more than a quarter of a million undergraduates. A once non-existent national security force now has some 350,000 soldiers and policemen. Leaders are picked by ballots instead of being picked off by bullets. On balance, Mr Obama's policy reversal will help give the fragile peace in Afghanistan a more realistic chance of survival.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'US move will safeguard Afghan peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe