On November 19th, Afghanistan ended its more than 2,000 member Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), which was commenced four days earlier by President Hamid Karzai and attended by a wide variety of “elders” from various backgrounds. There is a debate as to whether the representatives were handpicked by Mr. Karzai, as voiced by his opposition, or they were true representatives of their constituencies. Nevertheless, this consultative Loya Jirga, which has no legal binding, except to counsel the president, was convened to garner support for President Karzai’s proposed strategic partnership with the United States, following the departure of American and international forces at the end of 2014.
To the pleasure of Mr. Karzai, the members of the Loya Jirga, almost unanimously and without any tension, endorsed his proposed strategic partnership, pending more than 50 articles, which deal mainly with protecting Afghanistan’s sovereignty (militarily and otherwise), facilitating economic growth, and providing support in civil, academic and social spheres.
In return the United States will be provided bases to continue to engage in its counter terrorism activities.
The following day, around 1,000 students from Nangarhar University protested against the strategic partnership, but otherwise, no major public disagreement manifested.
Next, the proposal will be brought to the floor of the Afghan Parliament for debate, which has legal powers to disagree with president Karzai’s proposal.
So why is this strategic relationship with the United States so important to Afghans and Americans?
In the years since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Afghanistan went from one destructive war to another for one reason or another. Unfortunately, these conflicts were fueled by one nation or another for their interests at the expense of Afghans. This continuous warfare robbed Afghanistan of a true representative central government with a writ beyond a few miles from the capital. Thus, Afghanistan became a vacuum for religious ideologues — who were supported and organized by the international community against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — which converted Afghanistan into their base of operation to fight a global Jihad. To some degree they were successful and eventually they became capable enough to attack the United States in September of 2001 (9/11).
The United States, recognizing the dangers of continuing to be apathetic towards Afghanistan’s ailments, which it had contributed to creating, after 9/11 it militarily toppled the Taliban government for its refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden and for its support of Al-Qaeda, the perpetrator of 9/11. This operation to dismantle Al-Qaeda and its well-wishers became known as a “war on terror”, and despite ten years and the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, it is still raging in Afghanistan with hopeful, but limited success.
In the process of this “war on terror”, with the support of the international community, specifically the United States, Afghanistan developed a nascent democracy, and considerable progress was made in key sectors such as governance, security, economy, health, education, transportation, and so forth. Today, the United States with its partners, both NATO and non-NATO nations, has been training the Afghan military and police force to become capable of defending Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Unfortunately, veiled behind these successes is the reemergence of the Taliban, who have found safe havens in Pakistan. Despite many attempts by the international community to pressure Pakistan, the Taliban safe havens continue to operate with a certain degree of blessing from the Pakistani intelligence services. Peace overtures to the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan have been made by the Afghan government to no avail.
After more than ten years of investments in forming a modern and responsible nation in Afghanistan, the gains appear fragile and reversible. Afghanistan still doesn’t have the monetary and military capability to fend for itself. It is this fragility of maintaining the present achievements that a strong and reliable partnership with the United States becomes a necessity, especially when the international community is to depart Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Nevertheless, despite the necessity to partner with the United States, there is some fear amongst the Afghans, as was evident by the demonstration of Nangarhar University students, the day following the Loya Jirga’s decision to bless president Karzai’s proposed partnership with the United States, that Afghanistan will lose its sovereignty. From a superficial and emotional perspective that may be true, but the reality is that Afghanistan’s sovereignty was already violated when Al-Qaeda, Iran, Russia, India and Pakistan were jockeying for power and control prior to 9/11.
In fact, Pakistan’s federal government had a budget allocated to Afghanistan, as if Afghanistan was its fifth province.
Unfortunately, Afghans had no control over their affairs, and the violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty had no limit; whereas, the present proposal limits the United States to a ten year partnership in an environment that leaves Afghans with a representative government to make a decision to whether extend or terminate the partnership in ten years, or at anytime sooner.
In conclusion, the Strategic Partnership with the United States will provide the Afghan people some guarantee and reassurance that their country won’t revert to the dire situation prior to 9/11, and it will provide the United States and the rest of the international community a peace of mind that unscrupulous groups and/or organizations won’t create a base from which it can disrupt common local and international goals. Moreover, with peace and stability, Afghanistan’s central location in the heart of Asia can become a bridge to economic, academic and social endeavors which can benefit the region and beyond.