In the third and final US presidential debate, this time focused on foreign policy, the decade long US-led war in Afghanistan drew conspicuously little scrutiny from either candidate.
When the discussion did linger on Afghanistan, both Republican contender Mitt Romney and President Obama talked about the upcoming end of the combat mission in 2014 and the shifts in US foreign policy focus to other parts of the world. Neither candidate discussed the merits of the 11-year war or potentially changing US policy there.
The debate is an indicator that whether Obama or Romney is elected, the US is unlikely to make any radical policy shifts regarding Afghanistan. The US and NATO combat mission is scheduled to come to a close by 2014 and America’s longest war is heading toward a quiet close with little political debate.
In the end, Afghans say it doesn’t matter what Obama or Romney say, because US Afghan policy is already firmly in place.
“From our point of view, we know that the foreign policy of the United States, not only regarding Afghanistan but the entire world, it is not 100 percent dependent on the person who will be the president of the US,” says Moeen Marastial, an independent analyst in Kabul.
He adds that the presidential candidate’s aversion to the topic isn’t necessarily an indicator of the American government's commitment to Afghanistan, which has endured so far despite the war's lack of popularity.
“The majority of the people in the US are not interested in the issue of Afghanistan and they want the withdrawal of troops. This is the reason both candidates are not talking a lot about Afghanistan,” he says.
Indeed, American support for US involvement remains low, with 60 percent of Americans saying that the US should remove troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Only 35 percent support keeping US troops in the country until the situation has stabilized. These numbers have remained unchanged since April.
Despite the confidence of Afghans like Mr. Marastial, many Afghans say they worry that the lack of American political discourse about Afghanistan could pave the way for American disengagement with the country as happened in the 1990s after the war with the Soviet Union.
“For many Afghans, it’s really depressing to see that we are now losing our importance in US foreign policy as a central focal point. The fear still exists that Afghanistan might be once again lost to our neighbors and Afghanistan might be once again forgotten by the United States of America,” says Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
Still, the US and Afghanistan have already signed a strategic partnership agreement that guarantees an American presence in Afghanistan until at least 2024. This summer the US also named Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally, a distinction that gives Afghanistan preferred access to US weapons exports and defense cooperation.
Negotiations over the specifics of a bilateral security agreement, particularly as it pertains to whether US troops will fall under the jurisdiction of Afghan law, may cause some friction, but there are already a number of treaties in place securing long-term US commitment to Afghanistan.
Responding to a question about how little both candidates have focused on Afghanistan during the run up to the election, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said it has not been a point of concern for him.
“The not talking about Afghanistan by the candidates is, here, a nonissue,” said President Hamid Karzai in a recent interview with CBS news.
Mr. Karzai went on to say that the lack of public discussion has not led him to believe that the American government or people do not care about Afghanistan. He added that it’s important to continue to focus here because the threat of terrorism that originally brought the US and NATO to Afghanistan remains and has actually increased.