In a press conference held on Saturday, 25 January 2014, Afghan President Mr. Karzai has once again refused to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US stating that he will not sign that unless Washington and Pakistan launch a peace process with Taliban insurgents. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly refused to sign BSA, which allows residual US force to stay in Afghanistan after withdrawal of NATO’s military coalition troops by end of 2014. The US wants to keep about 5,000 to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train and assist new Afghan security forces in their battle against the Taliban militants. But President Karzai is conditioning the signing of BSA to the resumption of peace process with the Taliban by the US with the help of Pakistan terming it as a key player in this process. In fact the US had wanted Afghan President to sign BSA by October 2013 so that withdrawal process could be planned but Mr. Karzai refused to sign the proposed agreement till the resumption of talks with the Taliban, since talks to be held at Doha, Qatar in June 2013 had stalled. Mr. Karzai had even said that his successor could make the final decision after presidential elections due on April 5, 2014.
In his fresh refusal to sign BSA, President Karzai reiterated that the US must stop military operations inside Afghanistan (like a recent airstrike launched in Prawan province causing civilian casualties) and bring Taliban to the negotiating table. In this regard he also urged upon Washington to clarify its policies in Afghanistan. He further said that the consultative Loya Jirga was organised to show that the Afghan people are not against the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, and therefore Washington should clarify its instance and policies, if they are keen to be the ally of Afghanistan and Afghan people. In this context during the above mentioned press conference President Karzai stated ” If the US is not willing to accept our conditions on BSA they can leave anytime and Afghan will go without foreigners”. He further said,” We want to make sure that after the signing of BSA , Afghanistan will not go towards feudalism, so that no foreigner can create a weak central government with satellites in the provinces controlled by foreigners”. Such statements made by President Karzai are despite the fact that Afghan officials dismiss the possibility that the US may enact the “zero option” of a complete troop pull-out as it did in Iraq even if BSA was not signed. In view of the aforestated tough stance of President Karzai not to sign BSA unless the US met Afghan conditions of stopping attacks inside Afghanistan and bringing Taliban on the table for peace talks, this article broaches on the question as to why Karzai has conditioned signing of BSA with these two demands.
Mr Hamid Karzai is near completion of his second tenure of being President of Afghanistan and he has worked with the US and NATO for almost eight years. Although in the current tenure as President his relations with the US administration have remained murky he very well understands that it was under US patronage that he got an opportunity to win presidential elections and acted as Afghanistan’s President twice. In his second tenure as President quite often he remained critical of US policies in Afghanistan and his that stance has now culminated into putting conditions for signing BSA. Since he knows that Taliban have not been sufficiently subdued by the coalition forces in last 12 years, they are still a potent force to reckon with, withdrawal of US and NATO troops is going to happen anyway, retention of 5,000 to 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will not make much impact against expected Taliban operations, US is not likely to support his brother in the elections as a presidential candidate, he and his family will be under threat from Taliban, he has now realized to seek peace with Taliban and also to muster support of Afghan people by repeated refusing BSA. In view of Taliban’s apathy to the stay of US troops in Afghanistan and retention of its military bases, Mr. Karzai wants new President of Afghanistan to sign BSA so that he is not dubbed as a man who has allowed US forces to stay in Afghanistan for long. Mr Karzai has also realized that to have durable peace in Afghanistan it is necessary that Taliban are absorbed in the Afghan politics. There are also news that President Karzai and his administration are blaming the US for covertly supporting insurgents attacks inside Afghanistan to keep Afghanistan government under pressure. According to Foreign Policy Magazine dated 28 January 2014, senior Afghan officials told the Washington Post’s Kevin Scieff that “ behind the scenes, Mr Karzai has been building a far broader case against the Americans suggesting that they may have aided or conducted shadowy insurgent-style attacks to undermine the government. According to Scieff, Karzai has created a list of dozens of attacks that he believes the US may have been involved in, including the January 17, 2014 attack on La Tayerna du Liban restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people including three Americans.
Such are the apprehensions in the mind of President Karzai due to which he is not signing the BSA and he is now keen to have talks with the Taliban. That is he why he wants the US to clarify its policy towards Afghanistan that it does not intend to manage and manipulate strong provincial governments against weak central government beyond 2014 to linger on with Afghanistan’s destabilization to justify its stay to pursue its other regional goals. These apprehensions of Mr. Karzai might also contribute in changing his attitude of blaming Pakistan for interference in Afghan affairs. Rather it proves Pakistan’s perceptions that whereas India is using Afghan soil to destabilize Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan it is also supporting insurgent acts in Afghanistan just to blame Pakistan. While these acts of India are aimed at damaging Pakistan’s internal cohesion, these are also meant to spoil Pakistan-Afghanistan relations to perpetuate its influence in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai’s desire to have talks with the Taliban also vindicates Pakistan’s policy of supporting Afghan owned and Afghan lead peace process seeking reconciliation among all ethnic groups in Afghanistan. This whole scenario therefore suggests that Afghan leadership should not doubt Pakistan’s sincerity and instead it should cooperate with Pakistan to seek peace in Pakistan. In this context they should also realize that India’s military influence in Afghanistan will have negative implications for Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and peace process in Afghanistan.