Pakistan said on Sunday it was satisfied with NATO's plans to hand over control to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014, but cautioned against any withdrawal that doesn't acknowledge "ground realities."
Pakistan is crucial for the US-led efforts to stabilize war-ravaged Afghanistan because its border areas are sanctuaries, and training grounds, for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. Western allies have been pressing Pakistan to take tough action against these havens. At a conference in Lisbon, NATO agreed on Saturday to hand control of security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by 2014 as several Western nations seek an exit from almost a decade of war deeply unpopular among their people.
NATO said it could halt combat operations by 2014 as well, if security conditions were good enough, a proviso that Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said was key to any pullout of foreign forces.
"It (the timetable) has been qualified and the qualification is that they begin the withdrawal in line with ground realities and the ability of the Afghan authorities to resume the responsibility of their security," Qureshi told Reuters by telephone from Indonesia, where he is on an official visit.
A rise in violence in Afghanistan after any pull-out, or a collapse into chaos, is a major concern for Pakistan, which itself is fighting a growing insurgency by homegrown militants. Memories of the US walking away from Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and leaving the region in chaos are also still raw in Pakistan.
"If the Afghan army fails to deliver and foreign forces leave Afghanistan, then there will be another civil war in Afghanistan and it will have a big impact on Pakistan," Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Taliban and tribal affairs said.
US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke also has said that 2014 did not mark end of international presence in Afghanistan.
"There will be continued economic assistance, there will be continued training of the Afghan army and police," he told reporters in Islamabad last week.