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Ganesh Pol asked: What are the important factors that pushed Italy to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan?

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  • Reply: The phrase ‘long-term strategic partnership’ is tautological. Though liberally used today in international parleys and joint declarations, the term ‘strategic partnership’ is however meant to be comprehensive, all-encompassing and long-term. It is suppose to have a pre-defined road map, time-frame, with well-articulated objectives.

    Italy has had a long Afghan connection. Not only the deposed Afghan King Zahir Shah spent almost three decades in exile there, Italy also hosts an influential Afghan expat community.

    Italy, being an important member of the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF], has around 4,000 soldiers posted in Afghanistan and is the lead nation of the Regional Command – West [RC- W] of the ISAF, which is headquartered in Herat. Like the US, Germany, the UK, etc., Italy also has a Special Envoy for the Af-Pak region to coordinate its national and multilateral efforts. The current incumbent is Francesco Talò. Italian troops too have suffered casualties in Afghanistan.

    Being an EU/NATO member, signing a strategic partnership with Afghanistan is not unprecedented for Italy. Other European countries too have signed partnership agreements with Afghanistan. Recently, on May 16, Germany and Afghanistan signed a bilateral agreement in Berlin, by which the former has assured long-term military assistance to the latter. As it is evident from the recent developments like the NATO Summit in Chicago, the Western forces engaged in Afghanistan are in a withdrawal mode. However, at the same time, the contributing nations of the ISAF want to maintain close contacts with Afghanistan and assist in re-building the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF].

    Most crucial factor, which has definitely influenced Italy, is the imminent fall-out of the impending withdrawal of the ISAF from Afghanistan. For Europe, it means a wave of Afghan refugees at its doorstep. A fresh wave of Afghan refugees may be inevitable given the fear of a Taliban takeover of Kabul and subsequent reprisal against the supporters of the current government and civilian population in a post-withdrawal scenario. Long-term factors are rise in drug trafficking from Afghanistan, terrorism, and more importantly, the operational connections of young Islamic radicals in Europe with the extremist forces with terror potential active in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region.