Kabul: The proposed Bilateral Security Agreement to determine extent of U.S. and allied forces and their role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO forces at the end of 2014 is stuck because of Washington’s reluctance to commit to coming to the defence of Afghanistan in case of external aggression.
President Karzai’s fears are that Pakistan would take advantage of American withdrawal and push in the Taliban operating from the safe havens in its territory in order to rule Afghanistan by proxy, the way it did after the Russian withdrawal.
After the unscheduled visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Kabul on Saturday and his marathon talks with President Karzai, both the leaders claimed that most of the irritants have been sorted out, but Karzai said the agreement has to be passed by Parliament and then by the Loya Jirga called by him.
The only remaining issue is reported to be how much immunity American troops stationed in Afghanistan would enjoy and who will handle any violations committed by them.
Regarding external invasion, Karzai wanted a firm U.S. commitment that it would stand by Afghanistan. He pointed out “that though the U.S. is committed to stand by us if attacked, but when artillery was fired on us (by Pakistan in Kunar), the U.S. was not on our side.”
But Washington is not about to accept an obligation that could compel it to launch raids on Pakistan, a country of nearly 180 million people that’s armed with nuclear weapons, and which is, moreover, an ally and a recipient of a great deal of U.S. aid.
Karzai had been repeatedly pointing out that the U.S. has not gone after Pakistan for aiding and abetting Taliban and providing them sanctuaries to carry out their attacks in Afghanistan. The U.S. response to this has been that any such agreement would require a Senate ratified treaty.
But retired Army Lt.Gen. Karl Eikenberry who served as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and later as Washington’s ambassador to Kabul, thinks that the problem between Karzai and his foreign backers is more fundamental. He wrote in October’s Foreign Affairs issue that the U.S. soldiers were battling the Afghan Taliban on Afghan soil, while Karzai was convinced that the problem was across the border.
“U.S. military commanders diagnosed Afghanistan’s problem as an indigenous insurgency, albeit one made worse by the insurgents’ access to sanctuaries in Pakistan,” Eikenberry wrote. He added: “By contrast, Karzai and many of his compatriots diagnosed the problem as militant extremism, exported from Pakistan but cleverly masquerading itself in local garb.”
Time and again Karzai railed against the U.S. for fighting a war against Afghans, when they are not the enemy.
Karzai also accuses the U.S. of colluding with Pakistan and holding direct talks with the Taliban, bypassing his administration. Last week, Karzai was furious when the U.S. took custody of Pak Taliban leader Latif Mehsud in Logar province whom the Afghan Intelligence was trying to rope in for serious peace talks. Karzai’s Spokesman Aimal Faizi termed this as ‘serious breach of Afghan sovereignty’.
Karzai also suspected a U.S. hand in the house arrest of Pakistan Taliban number two leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was earlier released on Karzai’s persuasion.
Karzai wanted to use the Mullah as the main interlocutor for peace talks with the Taliban. The U.S. officials are reported to apprehend that the Mullah, if allowed to go to Afghanistan, may launch attacks on the Americans.
Another concern of Karzai is the civilian causalities in U.S. air attacks which had been a constant irritant between Karzai and the U.S. Retaining the U.S. Air Force presence is also imperative as Afghan defence has still no air force worth the name except some helicopters and transport planes.
The U.S. administration also wants to retain intelligence operatives to keep track of Al Qaeda remnants and other terrorist outfits, but Afghanistan is insisting on sharing all the intelligence which is not acceptable to the Obama administration.
Karzai says the U.S. had been putting roadblocks in his peace talks with the Taliban and has raised objections to the U.S. having direct talks with the Taliban. To placate Karzai, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had to prevail upon National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry to stall direct talks with the Taliban at Qatar till the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan is concluded.
President Obama has given October 31 as the deadline to finalise the agreement as it does not want this to become an issue in the Afghan Presidential elections — the process for which has already begun. Failing this, they would like to negotiate with the new President scheduled to be elected in April 2014.
Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has asked all the departments operating in Afghanistan to draw up their plans for their role in case the agreement is not signed.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Gurinder Randhawa, former AIR correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan.