By Ahmad Noor
Last December, US Senator Lindsey suggested the idea of permanent bases for the USA in Afghanistan. He argued that it would help “secure the gains” made in Afghanistan over the past years. The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai confirmed in February that he was in talks with the US about the issue. Apparently, Afghan officials are supporting the idea but the opposition forces are against it.
Rahim Wardak, former Defence Minister said, “US permanent bases would serve as a guarantee for Afghanistan’s long term security and stability.” On March 4, former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar stated in a joint press conference, “Afghanistan needed a permanent US military presence to ward off the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and warned that it would be dire if foreign troops left prematurely.” The influential governor of Northern Balk province Ustad Atta Mohammad Noor said, “Permanent US bases would discourage neighbors to plunge into Afghanistan.”
The main opposition group, the Taliban, released a statement condemning permanent bases as occupation. Similarly, Hezb-e-Islami leader Engineer Gulbudin Hekmatyar also showed his disagreement about the issue.
The roles and reactions of the neighbouring countries about the permanent US bases in Afghanistan are very important. Pakistan, one of the most important and influential neighbours of Afghanistan, is not in favour of US permanent bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan considers it against their geopolitical interest. Pakistani authorities are of the opinion that the US is involved in the destabilization of Baluchistan and tribal areas through Afghan intelligence. That is why Pakistan is directly and indirectly supporting the opposition forces. Pakistan has stepped up its efforts to talk to Iran, China, Russia and other neighbours of Afghanistan to “convince or force” the US to abandon Afghanistan by 2014. For this purpose, Pakistani military and political leaders in recent months visited different countries in the region. However, the official stance of Pakistan is that they will support whatever the Afghan government and the Afghan parliament decides about permanent bases.
Iranian leaders also showed their opposition to the idea of permanent US bases in Afghanistan. Iranian President Ahmadineijad addressed a gathering in February, “What are you doing in Afghanistan? Why are military bases established in the region? Are you here to help or for division?”. Iran’s interior minister, Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, visited Kabul and voiced objection to the proposed permanent US bases. He said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran is opposed to the presence of foreign forces and their military bases in the region. It is not in the interest of our nation and (in the interest of) Afghans. Whenever they (Americans) have come to this region, they have brought insecurity and terrorism.”
The permanent US bases in the region will challenge the supremacy and authority of Russia and China. Therefore, they are also against this initiative. The Russians are convincing the Afghan authorities not to accept the idea.
The issue of permanent bases for US in Afghanistan is debatable; therefore, the US and Afghan government should address this issue in a broader sense. It is a well known fact that Afghans are against the presence of foreign troops on their soil. Britain and Russia have already tasted and experienced the fatal consequences of long term presence in Afghanistan.
Even after years of wars, and the deaths of thousands of foreign and Afghan forces, the US and its allies have not yet realized the severity of the situation in Afghanistan. They should understand that they cannot win the war with bullets and bombs. Instead, they should try winning the hearts and minds of the people by bringing peace through Jirgas, a positive role for neighbouring countries and the good offices of the UN. They will have to realize that the opposition forces are genuine Afghans, and not a tool of Al-Qaeda. Moreover, they should assure the opposition forces and the regional players that their presence in Afghanistan is for the benefit of the region, and not for their own political game.
Therefore, power should be arranged and distributed in a proper and democratic way amongst all genuine stakeholders. The US and allied forces should help Afghanistan the way they helped Europe after the Second World War by introducing the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine.
The international community should play its role in strengthening democracy, reorganising the army and the police and rebuilding institutions. In addition, they should not insist on permanent bases as it is stinging issue both for Afghanistan and for other regional players.
The U.S. and the international community can secure their interests in Afghanistan only by means of a peace process. This can be achieved by negotiated settlements with all opposition forces and securing the collaboration of neighboring powers, including Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China. However, if the issue of permanent bases is forced, the strategic interests and location of Afghanistan are such that long wars can be fought and the dream of peace and stability for Afghanistan might not come true.
The U.S. ambassador for Afghanistan Ryan Crocker rightly assessed the situation and said, “Now is the time for Afghans to step forward and get to the frontlines to overcome their challenges. It’s time for us to step back and for the Afghan to step forward.”
Ahmad Noor ‘Baheige’ holds a Ph.D in International Relations from the University of Peshawar, Pakistan. His areas of expertise are Afghanistan and Afghan related issues.