Dichotomy of US-Afghan Relations

Why is President Karzai using delay tactics? Perhaps due to a possible reaction by the Taliban he does not want to take the responsibility of concluding the agreement and wants to leave it for his successor 

The much-awaited loya jirga (grand assembly) of Afghanistan was at least convened and after four days of deliberations it endorsed the signing of a bilateral security agreement (BSA) between the US and Afghanistan. The BSA actually deals with the post-withdrawal presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan; both states have been negotiating the terms of this agreement for more than a year. Due to contentious issues like the immunity of US soldiers under Afghan law, night raids on Afghan residential areas and demanding assurance from the US to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggression, the negotiations were continuously stalled. Earlier, President Karzai made the final approval of the agreement conditional to the endorsement of the loya jirga and now, when hand-picked members of the jirga have given the go ahead signal to the president, he has rejected the approval of the jirga and has asked for US for a long term commitment for peace in Afghanistan. President Karzai wants to delay signing the deal until after the presidential elections in April next year; he has reiterated his demands for no operations by foreign forces in residential areas, a sincere start to the peace process and holding of transparent presidential elections. Another demand among the terms of conditions has been the return of Afghan citizens held in Guantanamo Bay.

What are the motives behind this delay and how important is this security agreement for the US and Afghanistan? We know that the US desperately needs the BSA to be signed by the president. Its importance for the US is evident from the stalled Doha peace process when talks on the BSA were suspended by President Karzai as a protest against the ongoing peace process between the US and Afghan Taliban. President Karzai wanted to be at the centre of any dialogue process with the Taliban.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice pointed out that if President Karzai did not enter into an agreement by the end of this year, then there is the possibility of a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. There might be a repeat of an Iraq-like situation when the Iraqi government refused to give legal immunity to US troops and the US had to exercise ‘zero option’ by pulling out all of its troops. A complete withdrawal from Afghanistan would be contradictory to the US’ geo-political interests as it was highlighted by Bruce Riedel, former CIA analyst and advisor to former US presidents, in his recent book Avoiding Armageddon. He pointed out that the US’s military presence in Afghanistan is important to back up the Afghan army for at least another 10 years and to use Afghan bases for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US needs Afghanistan’s bases to continue the drone war and SEAL raids like the one in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden.

The question arises: why is President Karzai using delay tactics? Perhaps due to a possible reaction by the Taliban he does not want to take the responsibility of concluding the agreement and wants to leave it for his successor. Maybe he wants to use it as a bargaining chip to get as many concessions as he can. Constitutionally, he is not allowed to run for a third term but his brother is one of the eleven presidential candidates and, interestingly, all of them are in favour of signing the BSA.

It is imperative for Afghanistan and the US to identify and address the concerns of regional states. Pakistan and Iran as neighbouring states are very much concerned about US presence in the post-2014 period. Iran-US relations in the wake of a nuclear deal might be improved but US troops’ presence will be a debatable issue in Iran as well. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it has been facing the fallout of the Afghan conflict for three decades and the chaos and instability in Afghanistan directly affects FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the whole country. The Obama administration’s policy regarding drone warfare in FATA and even increased scope of this war to the cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shows the US’s indifference to international law, human rights violations and a complete disregard to public opinion across the world.

As far as Central Asian states Russia and China are concerned, these also are apprehensive of long-term US presence in the region. Though states are fearful when merely thinking of a looming civil war in Afghanistan, the US’s presence is detrimental to the interests of regional states except India, which considers troops’ presence in Afghanistan essential in enhancing its own interests. President Karzai can take any decision but the objective should be durable peace and stability in Afghanistan because a stable Afghanistan is the only option for regional stability.

The article was carried by Daily Times, on November 29, 2013.

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