Written by Tawab Malekzad
Yesterday, October 11, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry arrived in Kabul to continue negotiations with Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States. So far, the BSA-negotiations, outlining the future United States’ role in Afghanistan, have reached a critical point.
Washington wants to sign the agreement by the end of this month. Mr. Karzai, however, would rather wait a while longer for an agreement that will put Kabul in a better situation. .
In an interview with the British BBC, Mr. Karzai recently noted that, “the agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them, then we’ll naturally have to go separate ways.”
There are two main issues that Afghanistan and the United States currently disagree on.The first is Washington’s plan to continue conducting offensive acts from Afghanistan, such as missile strikes, detentions, and night raids against insurgents, also after the 2014 withdrawal. For obvious reasons, Mr. Karzai opposes this sort of arrangement and considers it a clear violation of Afghan sovereignty.
The second issue involves future U.S. willingness to protect Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai wants a guarantee that the U.S. military will continue protecting Afghanistan from foreign aggressors, also after the 2014 withdrawal.
U.S. Secretary John Kerry met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during an unannounced visit to Kabul. [Photo credit: thenews.com.pk]
If the two parties won’t sign the BSA on time, over $4 billion in international aid to Afghanistan will be cut by 2014. Moreover, U.S. troops will have completely withdrawn by the end of 2014.
The Afghan perception
Mr. Karzai has repeatedly stated that he is in no hurry to sign the agreement. Like many other Afghans I have personally spoken with, Mr. Karzai, believes that the U.S. announcement of a complete withdrawal is only a bluff.
Like many Afghans, Mr. Karzai sees the situation through a completely different lens. For the Afghan people, the United States are in Afghanistan not just to fight the Taliban, but also to take advantage of the country’s geopolitical location and of its rich natural resources.
As a consequence, the Afghan perception is that the U.S. will never really leave the country.
This widespread perception has led Mr. Karzai and his administration to keep pushing their U.S. counterparts to reach an agreement that better aligns with Mr. Karzai’s interests.This perception has also prevented Mr. Karzai and his administration from considering the complete withdrawal as a real possibility.
This perception of Mr. Karzai could lead Afghanistan onto the same path Iraq currently finds itself in—one where a complete U.S. withdrawal ended in complete chaos and insecurity. Despite Mr. Karzai’s perception, his administration understands the dire consequences of a complete U.S. withdrawal.
It is obvious that if the U.S. withdraws its financial and military support tomorrow, Kabul’s government will not be capable of controlling Afghanistan on its own. It won’t be able to govern the Arg either– the presidential palace in Kabul.
One of the reasons I say this is that we should not forget the 2011 attacks on the U.S. embassy in Kabul by the Taliban.The U.S. embassy in Kabul is a heavily armed and secure place. The attacks demonstrated the Taliban’s ability to infiltrate even the most heavily – fortified districts of Kabul.
If such a heavily-guarded compound that is secured by highly trained professional guards with technologically advanced weapons is attacked in the heart of Kabul by only a handful of Taliban who managed to lead a 19-hour firefight, then it is very plausible that a few dozen Taliban could win a future attack against a militarily and financially unstable Kabul with no foreign support.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama. [Photo credit: atlantablackstar.com]
If the two parties do not sign the BSA by the end of this month, the future of Afghanistan will remain more uncertain than it is now. Also, it is clear from the Iraqi experience that the U.S. will not postpone the negotiations until the end of 2014.
It would be in the best interest of Afghanistan as a whole if Mr. Karzai softened his approach to the agreement by making some meaningful compromises.