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Written by Tawab Malekzad

On Sunday, after four long days filled with meetings, the Loya Jirga (the nearly 2,500-member assembly of Afghan elders) finally endorsed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States, an agreement that would enable U.S. and NATO forces to stay and operate in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

However, on the last day of consultations, President Karzai surprised everyone in both Afghanistan and the U.S. by stalling the talks and postponing his signature until after the April 2014 elections. On Sunday he noted that “peace is our precondition. America should bring us peace and then we will sign it.”

On Tuesday, amid widespread surprise at Karzai’s position, the Washington Post reported that, on a first and unannounced visit to Afghanistan while in office, the U.S. top National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice told President Karzai that if he failed to sign the BSA by the end of this year, the U.S. would have “no choice” but withdrawal.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai talking at the Loya Jirga [Photo Credit: AFP]

The situation seems to be heading toward a delicate impasse. So far, Karzai has stipulated three preconditions that must be achieved before he will sign the agreement: transparent elections in April; no U.S. raids in Afghan homes; and a breakthrough in peace talks with the Taliban.

“Karzai’s Security Agreement” (KSA)

Karzai’s first precondition is to have transparent elections in April. What he means by this is that no external entity should interfere with the Afghan’s upcoming elections. Although President Karzai has been consistently heard saying that he does not support any particular candidate, it is clear which candidate he supports and which candidate he would like to see lose.

The Afghan president seems to be under the impression that the U.S. will support Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s rival in the 2009 presidential elections. Indeed, he is in favor of having any of the other 10 presidential candidates win over Abdullah. Since Karzai believes that he is not particularly trusted by the U.S. leadership, he thinks the U.S. will most likely support Abdullah in order to reduce Karzai’s political influence during the next Afghan administration.

No U.S. raids in Afghan homes is Karzai’s second precondition. While the raids are in fact an important source of concern among Afghans, Karzai plans to use this issue as a tool to gain political support among the Afghan population and possibly transfer this support to those presidential candidates he favors.

Karzai’s last precondition is a breakthrough in the peace talks with the Taliban. Unfortunately, this precondition is neither realistic nor practical. The Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has made it clear that he is opposed to the BSA. That means that it is very unlikely to have both a signed agreement and a breakthrough in the talks with the Taliban.

Moreover, any peace talks with the Taliban will not end the violence because there are several different Taliban groups functioning in the region.

What is clear is that, with each precondition, Karzai is trying to achieve one objective, and this objective is more likely to serve his interests, rather than those of the Afghan population.

Karzai’s rationale

In early October, when Karzai called for the Jirga to be held, he said that his administration would abide by any decision the Jirga may take. Now, however, it seems that Karzai is not going to do that, and that his preconditions stem from more personal reasons. There are two possible explanations for why he is adding such preconditions and delaying the agreement.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai [Photo Credit: indiavision.com]

First, it is possible that he is actually not serious about the preconditions he has set, and that he is just “testing the waters.” Karzai may want to test whether he has any political say over the Jirga’s decision. So, it is possible that he will sign the agreement before the end of the year, but he simply wants to feel he can still wield power before leaving the presidential place.

Second, Karzai might be serious about these preconditions and views calling for the Jirga a mistake. In that case, his wish to secure his own interests would seem to be the most plausible explanation.

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