OPINION: The temptation to withdraw New Zealand's remaining troops from Afghanistan ahead of schedule late next year must be strong.
The deaths of lance corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone in a roadside ambush in the northeast of Bamiyan province on Saturday takes to seven the number of Kiwi soldiers who have died during service in Afghanistan.
More have been injured, including six in the latest attack that occurred when New Zealand forces went to the aid of local police attempting to arrest a suspected bomb-maker.
Meanwhile an end to hostilities in the benighted nation looks as remote as it did in 2003 when the provincial reconstruction team was first dispatched to Bamiyan as part of an international attempt to transform a lawless state into a functioning democracy.
Nevertheless New Zealand must stay the course.
The reconstruction team was sent to Bamiyan to do a job. That job is not complete. To cut and run would be to devalue the sacrifices of the seven Kiwis who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and the many others who have served there.
Ultimately, it is not within the gift of foreign troops to deliver peace to Afghanistan, no matter how superior their firepower. That will come only when the nation's feuding tribes agree to set aside age-old enmities and work together.
However, the provincial reconstruction team has built and repaired infrastructure and given the provincial leadership breathing space to recover from the depredations of the Taleban and establish its legitimacy. The best chance of the team's efforts enduring is for the transfer of responsibility for the security of the region to local forces to continue in a staged manner.
The same holds true for other Western nations desperate to exit a bloody and expensive conflict that has continued longer than the first and second World Wars I and II combined.
Afghans have not embraced democracy with the enthusiasm hoped for by the Bush administration when it launched Operation Enduring Freedom after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Under President Hamid Karzai, corruption remains endemic and the Taleban, which is claiming responsibility for the latest New Zealand deaths, continues to test the resolve of Western and Afghan forces.
However, the Taleban's former house guests al Qaeda have been driven out of Afghanistan, and the seeds of democracy have been sown in provinces like Bamiyan. Hopefully the seeds take root in what till now has proved an inhospitable soil.
For those seeds to have any chance of germinating, responsibility for security must be transferred to Afghan forces in an orderly manner.
It would be a tragedy if Afghanistan was to again become a haven for terrorists. However, it is not the job of the international community to indefinitely provide protection for a corrupt regime.
The clock is ticking on the Karzai Government. It has only a few months to convince Afghans of its legitimacy. It should seize the opportunity while it exists.
- © Fairfax NZ News