President Barack Obama quietly flew into Afghanistan last week on a significant mission ---- to join Afghan President Hamid Karzai in signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries. The text still needs to be ratified by the US Congress and the Afghan Parliament, but at face value, it is quite an achievement for Afghanistan.
For such a grand agreement, with Afghanistan designated as a "major non-NATO ally" like South Korea, Israel, and neighbouring Pakistan, the document is only nine pages long. It leaves out many important details that will likely be discussed and hammered out at a later date, but Kabul's declared status provides a new level of protection.
The biggest advantage the Taliban have had in the fight against the central government has been their ability to convince fighters inside and outside the country that the pull-out of foreign troops would leave Karzai standing alone. That message boosted the confidence of elements inside Pakistan's security forces who are tacitly supporting the insurgents.
Taliban casualties appear to be several times higher than those of the Afghan National Security Forces and international troops combined, but the logic has been simple: hold ground and fight back until the foreigners leave. Absorb the losses by recruiting more members willing to die for the cause.
This pact erodes some of the Taliban's advantage, making a commitment that some US troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2024. The 12-year timeframe lessens the weight of any declaration of victory against foreign troops.
The bad news for the Taliban does not end there.
As a "major non-NATO ally", the Afghanistan National Security Forces will likely receive a boost through US funding. That's a significant motivation, and it follows the recent events in Kabul when ANSF was largely responsible for repelling Taliban attacks, with heavy casualties to the terrorists and lighter ones to the capital's defenders.
The ANSF is not as weak as it has been perceived. With further Americann funding and US tactical and strategic support on the ground, it can be at least as formidable a force as the Taliban.
The pact is also food for thought for those elements inside Pakistan who have supported the Taliban in the hope that when the US leaves, they could push insurgents back into Afghanistan and then deal with the elements remaining in Pakistan. The US commitment in the pact could mean that Islamabad now has more to gain from a joint fight with Kabul against the Taliban.
I await the final details of the pact to assess how crucial they may be. But for now, Afghans can take heart that they do not face the crisis of a near-term American withdrawal.