Eleven years ago, Afghanistan was the most isolated country in the world. The Afghan people were suffering silently, and their basic human rights were violated by many warring factions on a daily basis. Regional states, which filled the vacuum in Afghanistan left by the departure of Soviet forces and the abandonment of the country by the West, supported Afghan proxies against one another to weaken and control Afghanistan and fulfill their geostrategic designs. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, they sheltered Osama bin Laden and protected his operational terrorist activities. They also allowed the country to turn into the world's main source of narcotic drugs, which financed their brutal atrocities against Afghanistan's civilian population and fueled global organized crime.
As a pariah state, Afghanistan posed a grave security threat to the United States and its many interests in the region. On Sept. 11, 2001, al Qaeda operatives attacked the U.S. homeland and indiscriminately killed nearly 3,000 innocent American civilians, including many Muslims. In response, the Afghan people -- who had long been terrorized by al Qaeda and the Taliban and had resisted both groups from within and outside Afghanistan -- rose in support of the United States. They received American forces with open arms and fought alongside them to rid Afghanistan permanently of the terrorist threat. With such unprecedented popular support, coalition forces and the Afghan people quickly and decisively toppled the Taliban regime.
Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan, the United States, and U.S. allies have made significant progress toward their shared goal of a region free from the threats of terrorism and extremism. To consolidate their shared gains over the past 11 years and cement those gains for another decade after 2014, the governments of Afghanistan and the United States have just signed an Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement as part of President Barack Obama's visit to Kabul. The government and people of Afghanistan consider this landmark agreement a new beginning in their strategic relationship with the United States and the rest of the world for several reasons.
First, since the announcement in 2009 of the phased withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the Afghan people have been panicking about whether the world will once again abandon their country prematurely. Daily press reports about tired NATO allies leaving the country one by one have further fueled concern and fear among Afghans. But the signing of the agreement, which includes long-term security guarantees and development assistance to Afghanistan, should restore the Afghan people's confidence in their partnership with the United States. A secure future in a stable region -- something the Afghan people continue to expect -- is now realistically achievable based on credible, long-term international commitments.
Second, in addition to outlining security and defense guarantees from the United States, the agreement designates Afghanistan as a "major non-NATO ally." This should make it clear to terrorists and their affiliates that they can no longer hope to wait out the United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan. After the completion of the transition process in 2014, the United States and NATO will provide long-term support for "the training, equipping, advising, and sustaining of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)." Such assistance will continue until Afghan security institutions firmly stand on their own and are capable of defending Afghanistan against all internal and external security threats.