The US has yet again decided to prolong agony of Afghans by extending its stay in Afghanistan. It has been successful in signing the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the new elected President of Afghanistan effective from January 2015. Former Afghan President Karzai had refused to endorse the agreement due to strained relations with the US and left the decision to his successor.
Afghanistan witnessed some major political setbacks in the year 2014. The Afghan election was marred by large-scale fraud and Afghanistan was held hostage by political stalemate. Presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah were at odds over an election. Abdullah complained of mass vote rigging in June runoff election by Ghani. The US pressurised both the candidates because it implied a risk for the US troops in the aftermath of the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan, and finally on September 21st 2014, both the candidates agreed to form a national unity government.
In the meanwhile Independent Election Commission (IEC) conducted an audit of all the ballots cast approximately eight million ballots and 23,000 ballot boxes. And after the formation of the government IEC announced the results of the audit which were not made public and declared Ghani as, President and Abdullah to be sworn in as Chief Executive. Surprisingly this was an extra-constitutional position because later on constitution would be amended to create an empowered Prime Minister. This new setup undermines the constitution hence; fragile resolution will lead to political chaos.
Karzai’s successors were committed to sign the BSA. Therefore the very first act of the unity government after assuming power was to sign the agreement with the US. As both the Presidential candidates had declared support for the agreement during their election campaign. They signed the BSA because both are pro-western and signing the agreement was an indicator that they support the US stance to continue its counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan post 2014.
The BSA stipulates long term US military presence in Afghanistan. President Obama confirmed initial residual force of 9800 till the end of 2015 that will be reduced to half in 2016. The end of 2017 envisages further reductions in these numbers. As per the terms and conditions of the agreement it shall remain in force till the end of 2024 and beyond. Ironically the US maintains its presence in Afghanistan and on the other hand it opposes aggression by foreign states. According to Article 6 of the BSA, “Afghanistan has been subject to aggression and other uses of force inconsistent with the United Nation’s Charter by foreign states and externally based or supported armed groups. In the context of this Agreement, the Parties strongly oppose such uses of armed force or threats thereof against the territorial integrity or political independence of Afghanistan, including in this regard provision to armed groups of support, such as sanctuary or arms, by any state or other armed groups”.
The security agreement between Afghanistan and the US will further complicate situation in Afghanistan and the region. Amongst its major drawbacks are:
Firstly, this agreement will not let the Afghan nation unite. US obligation to Afghan nation is to withdraw its troops completely and initiate political reconciliation among the Taliban and rest of the factions. Instead it has decided to prolong its stay. In this case Taliban will continue to fight against foreign forces and there are minimal chances of peace and stability not just in Afghanistan but in the region as well. The Taliban have dismissed the BSA and consider it a “sham”, orchestrated by the US. The Taliban’s official spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement, “The Americans must understand that our soil and land belong to us and all decisions and agreements are made by Afghans, not by the US foreign secretary or ambassador.”
Secondly, this agreement will render legal cover to the US forces and will facade its future military and foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan and the region. Afghanistan’s strategic significance and position is central in the region. It is highly probable that US would pursue its goals in Central Asia regarding the New Great Game. This prolonged stay in the region would aid the US in achieving its goals of keeping a hawk’s eye on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as US rhetoric is, they are not safe. Henceforth by staying in the region it shall be more viable for the US to contain China and Russia’s growing influence in the region. Such developments will determine the future strategic composition of the region.
Thirdly, Under BSA US led drone strikes in Pakistan will continue for next 10 years or more. Drone attacks launched in tribal areas originate from Afghanistan. Therefore the US will continue to breach sovereignty of Pakistan.
Lastly, the agreement also prevents the US military personnel from being prosecuted under Afghan laws for any crime they may commit in Afghanistan. Thus they will be free to commit crimes, torture and massacre Afghan civilians and their war crimes will not be investigated. “Two major examples include Special Operations Forces raid on a house in Paktia province in 2010, and enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts, Wardak province, in November 2012 to February 2013, involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes. No one has been criminally prosecuted for either of the incidents. These war crimes have gone uninvestigated.
According to Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director, “Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by the US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses.”
This agreement reflects that the US is the sole guarantor of security and stability of Afghanistan. Although President Obama when announced the timetable for drawing down troops May 2013 he said, “Afghanistan should not rely on the United States to manage the creation of a more stable society. That was up to its own security forces and elected officials … We have to recognize that Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one.” It becomes clear from the statement of President Obama that the US lacks roadmap for Afghanistan; its military presence in Afghanistan is for merely strategic concerns.
It is high time for the US to accept its defeat in Afghanistan and completely withdraw its troops as its flawed strategy has done irreparable damage to Afghanistan as well as the rest of the region. Afghanistan requires a reliable state structure not the presence of foreign troops because BSA will not end reliance on the US assistance. The general elections were a farce, the Afghan election commission and the monitoring bodies had failed miserably in conducting free and fair election, a government which is not a result of public mandate but a product of a brokered deal cannot be accepted as a legitimate government. Urgent need of hour is intra-Afghan peace dialogue so that Taliban and all other factions can resolve their differences and every faction must be given due representation. This will facilitate peace not just in Afghanistan but in the Pakistan and the region as well.
* Nida Hameed is a graduate of School of Global Studies, University of Sussex.