Kabul: The NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Friday that gains secured in 12 years of fighting could be lost if donor nations cut back support when troops leave next year.
Billions of dollars in military and civilian aid have been promised to Afghanistan after the NATO-led combat mission ends, but many Afghans fear they will be abandoned by the war-weary international community.
US General Joseph Dunford said that further investment was needed to turn the Afghan army and police into a modern fighting force that could protect its people and defend progress made since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
"The gains that we have made to date are not going to be sustainable without continued international commitment," US General Joseph Dunford told a group of foreign correspondents. "We are not where we need to be yet".
"The continued presence of the international community politically, in development and in security is necessary to sustain the progress that we have made.
"Is the effort we have had to date sustainable? I would say no, not until we develop the procedures (and) the institutions necessary to sustain a modern national army."
Dunford`s comments reflect concerns that Afghanistan is set for spiralling instability as 100,000 NATO-led troops withdraw and President Hamid Karzai steps down ahead of a presidential election next year that could be bitter and divisive.
"If the elections are not perceived as inclusive, free and fair, there is certainly a chance that people would not be satisfied and that could result in violence," Dunford said.
Recent major attacks in the capital Kabul have focused attention on the Taliban`s ruthless choice of targets as it tries to destabilise the US-backed government in the run-up to the NATO pull-out and the elections.
A suicide car bomb on Tuesday killed 15 civilians outside the Supreme Court a day after gunmen fired grenades at the city airport, while an international aid group`s compound was targeted in a seven-hour battle late last month.
"The Taliban said they would (launch) a fear, murder and intimidation campaign and we have seen some of that," Dunford said.
"We need to have the perception of security improved so that people believe in the political process and are ready to participate in the elections and so that Afghan security forces are credible in eyes of Afghan people."
Pressure is increasing on Afghan and international leaders to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban to foster stability before the NATO troops depart, though the insurgents have refused to consider talks with Karzai.
Dunford said that talking with the Taliban was the only way to halt the violence.
"Eventually this has to be resolved by political means. At some point, all people who want to be part of a stable and secure Afghanistan are going to have to be accommodated.
"The violence will stop when there is a framework within which to develop a political end to the conflict. Reconciliation is a delicate process."