The militant resistance and violence ahead of the presidential elections is set to cause a significant setback to the planned political transition. Karzai, to his discredit, has little control or authority on vast parts of Afghanistan outside Kabul. Indeed, dubbed by many as "Ruler of Kabul", Karzai's profile in presiding over one of the world's most troubled countries will appeal to many more outside his country than within.
There are no easy solutions to Afghanistan's continuing prospects for a return to turmoil. The presence of the US military provides a deterrence to large scale militant activity but in itself does not offer the assurance of long-term security. In fact, the controversy surrounding the conduct of the US military in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan will make it more difficult for Washington or its clients, such as Karzai's Kabul-based authority, to improve their standing.
In time, the US presence in Afghanistan is set to create room for greater adversity with even a planned political transition confined to the dustbin of history. For the Bush administration, the objective of stabilising Karzai's regime in order to create a state which is loyal to the US is too far fetched a goal to be achieved easily.
Aspirations for eventually taking Afghanistan towards a western-style democracy are bound to fail as illustrated by the country's history. Except for Kabul and some of its surrounding areas, and a few urban centres, Afghanistan has traditionally been ruled by a relatively weak monarchy, with the country's regional notables extending their support for the sake of national unity. There are many who argue that the picture of Afghanistan today cannot be seen in the mirror of its history, hence the need for a new definition of where the country must go in the future.
But a radical departure from Afghanistan's historical contour poses the danger of taking it in a direction that stands completely in opposition to its own experiences. It is safe to argue that Afghanistan's transition to democracy under a US-driven plan is likely to fail if the objective is only to set in motion a new democracy that is targeted towards emulation of western values.
The picture in Afghanistan also provides a sobering lesson for Washington's plans to influence political reforms in other parts of the Muslim world, notably in the Middle East. Just like Afghanistan, the traditional methods of political representation in the Arab world have been such that transition to a western-style democracy is hardly the best choice for stable politics.
For the success of political stability in Afghanistan, two prerequisites are essential.
On the one hand, a wide-ranging and comprehensive national amnesty is necessary. This will enable dissidents and members of warring factions to get into the mainstream, knowing that they do not face the threat of prosecution and, indeed, persecution, as the case of the US military's abuse of Iraqi prisoners clearly demonstrated.
On the other hand, all efforts to provide Afghanistan with new economic opportunities are bound to fail unless they are backed by a fast-track and bold effort to revitalise the economy. The case for injecting billions of dollars through fresh foreign economic assistance remains pressing if Afghanistan's future is to be secured. There can be no long-term security for Afghanistan as long as large parts of its territory are inhabited by vast numbers of impoverished people.
Bush's principal agenda in Afghanistan beyond his proclaimed aim of nation building is indeed to root out the menace of terrorism. But the "war on terror" will remain an unfulfilled objective unless Afghanistan's fundamental political and economic realities are turned around and the US military's conduct in pursuing Washington's war is closely scrutinised, especially after recent revelations surrounding their conduct in Iraqi prisons.
On the contrary, the record thus far demonstrates the eagerness of the US to pursue only its self-defined security threats through its self-defined means. In the long run, failure to tackle the threats to its security interests is bound to be the outcome for Washington, with its conduct in Afghanistan providing a sobering lesson.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.