Afghan-US Security Deal: Not the Beginning of the End

Ajmal Shams

23 December  2013

Almost three weeks ago the Consultative Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of nearly 2500 Afghan elders, endorsed the Afghan-US Bilateral Security Agreement asking President Karzai to sign the pact sooner rather than later. Yet President Karzai has obstinately refused until his demands are met by the US. These include guarantees by the US to deliver peace in a quick time frame, immediate halt to raids on Afghan homes and surety by the US for free and fair upcoming presidential election. With both sides adamant so far, the talks appear to have reached a gridlock.

Convening a Loya Jirga sounded like a right approach to build consensus although not necessitated by the Constitution. It is yet to be seen how far the recommendations by the Jirga will be taken into account by the Afghan President as well as the US side.

Being in power for almost 12 years, backed by the US and its NATO allies, Karzai apparently wants to be seen as going down in history as someone who did not bow down before ‘the world super power’. Weeks before the Jirga, Karzai had indicated that he would rather be happier with his successor signing the deal rather than him. He might be thinking that history would judge him as nationalist who tried to preserve his country’s sovereignty while his successor did not. President Karzai’s recent maneuverings, however, might have little bearing on public perception of him. He was brought on the Afghan political scene as a result of international consensus, though twice elected as president by Afghans.  While all of President Karzai’s stubbornness cannot be associated with his desire to be influential even after being out of power, he might be partially using the deal as bargaining chip.

To a significant extent, Afghanistan relies on continued military and financial assistance from the US. Not signing the deal will jeopardize the partnership for all practical purposes. That also means the promised almost $ 4 billion annual aid by NATO for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may not be forthcoming. If the US really pulls back, so will its allies. Can Afghanistan afford this? One must be naive to presume the country could deal with it.

How about our neighbors? Without a stabilizing factor of the US presence, foreign interventions will push the country to the edge as happened in the Post-Soviet period in the early nineties. Genuine patriotism is a true reflection of our national interests rather than succumbing to a misguided perception of looking at BSA as equivalent to losing our sovereignty. So will Afghanistan be more sovereign without it? The response, surely, is negative.  

President Karzai seems to have some genuine concerns though, both domestic and regional. For example, he might be anxious about the risk of Afghans pointing finger at him anytime things go wrong after the deal becomes operational by the end of 2014. He might also be afraid that the pace of the insurgency in Afghanistan might intensify as our Southern and Eastern neighbors will see the BSA as detrimental to their interests. An aggressive diplomacy by the US for the past couple of years seems to have somehow mitigated Pakistan’s concerns regarding US presence in Afghanistan. But more intensive efforts might be needed by the former in this regard.  Iran’s position regarding BSA must also be looked at in the backdrop of its recent rapprochement with the US after reaching a deal on its nuclear program.

On the US side, the threat of zero option is not pragmatic either. If all goes well, Afghanistan will have a new president in office in the early summer of 2014. The newcomer will have to readily go for the BSA in case Karzai continues to not sign it during his tenure. Planning for the zero option and not for the enduring presence will increase uncertainty and adversely impact the morale of ANSF not to speak of the destabilizing effect it will have on the political and economic environment.

Despite President Karzai’s failure in building viable institutions, one cannot ignore his efforts for the national unity and his untiring efforts to build regional consensus on Afghan crisis. It would be best if the US continues to partner with President Karzai on BSA through persuasion without resorting to intimidation.  It is very likely that in the back of his mind, Karzai is convinced that the deal will have to be signed either by him or his successor. Realistically speaking both Afghanistan and the US have only one option and that is not the zero option (i.e. complete pull-out post 2014) as the post-soviet Afghanistan of the early nineties might repeat itself, which is in the interest of none. (Courtesy: Gulf News)

The writer is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party well know as Afghan Millat National Progressive Party and is based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy: Gulf News

دافغان ملت ملي مترقي ګوند

 Afghanistan Social Democratic Party

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