At best, Britain's transfer of responsibility for security in Lashkar Gah heralds the return to Afghan control of other regions and brings the ordered withdrawal of British forces closer. At worst, it was little more than a fig-leaf designed to excuse and cover up the chaos that the withdrawal, as it gathers pace, could leave behind.
Early signs are not good. Violence has been escalating since President Karzai announced that seven areas would be handed over to Afghan forces from July – including in places, such as Mazar-e Sharif, which were relatively peaceful. The first transfer, from US troops in Bamiyan Province, was followed by the killing of a presidential aide in Kabul. This week explosions accompanied the handover from Nato forces in the capital of Laghman Province. Kandahar remains tense after the killing of Mr Karzai's half-brother.
Optimists might argue that it is the presence of foreign forces, not their absence, that is the destabilising factor, and that ructions are inevitable as the centre of power shifts. But if Nato is to make a dignified exit according to President Obama's timetable of 2014, much work clearly remains to be done.Reuse content