By Dmitry Babich
The few details which became known to the outside world on the new Strategic Partnership Agreement, reached between the governments of the United States and Afghanistan, do not sound very reassuring. As it transpires, the document was tentatively approved by two officials of a relatively low rank – the American ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Crocker, and Rangin Spanta, an Afghan national security adviser. The final approval is expected to take place at the NATO summit in Chicago, in May.
Obviously, both the American and the Afghan leaders are trying to put on a brave face. The Kabul government announced that it would hold a parade in the Afghan capital on April 28 to commemorate the Afghan mujaheddins’ “victory” over what Kabul calls “the Red Army” in the 1980s. The date for the parade was chosen several years ago as a way to snub the nostalgic supporters of the former pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan and that regime’s very memory. Under pro-Soviet leaders Babrak Karmal and Nadjibullah parades were held in Kabul on April 27 to commemorate the leftist revolution of 1978 which brought the communist-dominated People’s Democratic party of Afghanistan to power. This revolution was later recognized by Russian experts as a “premature” event that ultimately led to the Soviet Politburo’s tragic decision to intervene in Afghanistan in 1979-1989. In 2008 a similar “anti-communist” parade on April 28 was attacked by the Taliban’s fighters who fired at the parade’s participants from bazookas and submachine guns, with 15 people killed. Under Karmal and Nadjibullah, parades on April 27 were never disrupted.
A lot of Kabul’s residents are reported to be concerned about the parade, as an announcement about the coming festivities was made less than a week after a deadly Taliban’s attack against the capital and several other cities across the country. This detail tells you something about the problem which the US officials euphemistically characterize as “loopholes” in the security of Afghanistan under American occupation.
“By December 2014, the Afghan National Security Forces will be well able to take on the task of executing an ongoing counterinsurgency campaign,” a senior NATO official was quoted by the New York Times as saying at a news conference called under standing ground rules of anonymity. “We are very confident that we can hand off responsibility to them.”
But what is this confidence built on? Reports about the US-Afghan agreement give little ground for optimism.
The agreement is supposed to guarantee the Afghan government more support from the United States for at least 10 years after the withdrawal of US troops, scheduled for the year 2014. But since the agreement’s text has never been released, observers have serious doubts about its effectiveness. “The agreement has a largely symbolic character. The information which was ultimately released does not disclose any data on the amount and nature of forces which the US will keep in Afghanistan after 2014,” Moscow-based analyst Vladimir Skosyrev wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “This leaves all options open for the Taliban – they may interpret this document as an incentive for more attacks against the Afghan government forces and the government itself.”
Taliban has proven on numerous occasions that it remains a formidable military force, launching deadly attacks, including the ones against officially held parades. Meanwhile, a special security assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, released by NATO officials on Monday, referred to Taliban’s influence as “waning” and to the 350,000 of government forces as being “in control” of the country.
This assessment is at odds with reports on Taliban being in control of whole areas in the south of the country. It should be noted that current Taliban’s attacks are targeting Kabul at the moment when about 100,000 troops from the NATO-based International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are present in the country. This number is supposed to drop to 68,000 by the end of this year. In this situation, talks about preserving peace and stability in the country after the American combat troops’ withdrawal in 2014 sounds more and more like wishful thinking.
These concerns, however, seem to have little relevance during the election year in the US. Besides cutting the number of American troops, the undisclosed US-Afghan agreement contains some other important perks for an American taxpayer. Instead of $110-120 billion which the US annually spends on Afghanistan’s security now, the agreement is reported to envision a cut in these expenses to mere $2.7 billion. Obviously, the US is expecting more participation from the European allies who so far explained their unwillingness to pay by the absence of a relevant US-Afghan agreement. Now, with the unpublished document discussed in the media, this remaining obstacle on the way of European investment into Afghanistan’s “security black hole” can be declared to be removed – declared by Washington, that is.