Time to Get Se­ri­ous

What lies ahead for Afghanistan in the up­com­ing NATO Sum­mit?

Southasia - - Contents - By Daud Khat­tak Daud Khat­tak is Act­ing Di­rec­tor at Mashaal Ra­dio, RFE/RLPRAGUE, Czech Repub­lic. As a se­nior jour­nal­ist, he has cov­ered the Tal­iban move­ment in Pak­istan and Afghanistan. He writes for the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

Af­ter months of ne­go­ti­a­tions, the United States and Afghanistan fi­nally agreed on what is termed as the ‘En­dur­ing Part­ner­ship Agree­ment,’ on April 22 thus re­mov­ing at least one of the un­cer­tain­ties sur­round­ing the trou­bled re­la­tion­ship of the two gov­ern­ments ahead of the two-day Chicago Sum­mit, sched­uled to be­gin on May 20.

Ear­lier, Afghan Pres­i­dent, Hamid Karzai had urged upon the United States to present a writ­ten com­mit­ment of pay­ing two bil­lion US dol­lars to sup­port the Afghan se­cu­rity forces for a decade fol­low­ing the sched­uled with­drawal in 2014. Sus­pi­cions ex­isted as au­tho­riza­tion and ap­pro­pri­a­tion of that amount lies in the ju­ris­dic­tion of the US Congress and can­not be com­mit­ted by the ex­ec­u­tive.

How­ever, Sec­re­tary of State, Hil­lary Clin­ton’s state­ment in Brus­sels on April 18 pledg­ing sup­port for Afghanistan af­ter 2014 per­haps en­cour­aged the Afghan ne­go­tia­tors, led by former for­eign min­is­ter, Dr. Ran­gin Dad­far Spanta to fi­nal­ize the draft of the ‘En­dur­ing Part­ner­ship Agree­ment.’

Now eyes are fixed on the Chicago Sum­mit where over 50 heads of states are meet­ing to re­view the progress on the goals laid out dur­ing the Lis­bon meet­ing last year. The key area of fo­cus will be the 2014 with­drawal and the pledges of fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Afghan gov­ern­ment. This will in­clude both civil­ian and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance.

Be­fore the fi­nal­iza­tion of the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment, the hand­ing over of author­ity of de­ten­tion cen­ters to Afghans and the lead role for Afghan se­cu­rity forces in night raids were the ma­jor road­blocks. Both hur­dles were re­moved af­ter the sign­ing of two sep­a­rate agree­ments be­tween the US and Afghan ne­go­tia­tors, to the sat­is­fac­tion of the lat­ter.

Now that the two coun­tries will have a some­what smooth sail­ing to­wards May 20, the key ques­tion is how big of a role is the Sum­mit go­ing to play in bring­ing an end to the decade-long war and en­sur­ing sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan and the re­gion.

The United States would be fully jus­ti­fied in in­form­ing its NATO al­lies and the Afghans that the back of alQaeda has been bro­ken and its lead­er­ship is no longer able to or­ga­nize well­co­or­di­nated at­tacks against the West as they were able to be­fore 9/11. How­ever, there will be much less to say the same about the Tal­iban and its af­fil­i­ates, such as the Haqqani Net­work.

The well-co­or­di­nated at­tacks in Kabul, Jalal­abad and Gardez on April 15 and the en­su­ing fight in the cen­tral cap­i­tal of Kabul that lasted for sev­eral hours, leaves lit­tle room for op­ti­mism in a post-with­drawal Afghanistan. Notwith­stand­ing the quick and very much or­ga­nized re­ac­tion from the Afghan se­cu­rity forces, the mes­sage con­veyed by the per­pe­tra­tors of the at­tacks was loud and clear: We are very much alive and can dis­rupt se­cu­rity any time we like.

The sec­ond im­por­tant as­pect is the strength and train­ing of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces af­ter 2014. Al­though the United States is ex­pected to pledge around $2.5 bil­lion a year, NATO part­ners are yet to present a con­crete plan of de­vel­op­ment in the civil­ian sec­tor as well as sup­port for the Afghan se­cu­rity forces whose num­ber would be re­duced to a mere 230,000.

There is noth­ing clear about the not-so-se­cret talks be­tween the United States and the Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Even if it is be­lieved that the two sides are still in con­tact, it is not clear that the Tal­iban would ac­cept the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment un­der which the United States is likely to keep its Spe­cial Forces at some key lo­ca­tions in Afghanistan. One of the fore­most con­di­tions from Tal­iban for any peace set­tle­ment is the with­drawal of for­eign troops from Afghanistan. Would they ac­cept the pres­ence of US troops is any­body’s guess?

The pres­ence of US Spe­cial Forces in Afghanistan be­yond 2014 to sup­port the Afghan se­cu­rity forces is an as­sur­ance for the Afghans that the United States is not aban­don­ing the coun­try this time as it did af­ter the Soviet with­drawal in 1989. How­ever, it is equally im­por­tant to gauge how Afghanistan’s neigh­bors will view the long-term US pres­ence in the re­gion.

To some diplo­matic sources, the US troops would be sta­tioned in the western prov­ince of Herat (bor­der­ing Iran), the south­ern prov­ince of Kan­da­har (bor­der­ing Pak­istan) and the cen­tral cap­i­tal of Kabul. Since the US-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship is cur­rently un­der­go­ing a diplo­matic dead­lock and Iran al­ready has strained re­la­tions with the United States, the two neigh­bors would cer­tainly come out with reser­va­tions which might af­fect their re­la­tions with Afghanistan.

Nei­ther Pak­istan nor Rus­sia has sig­naled join­ing the Chicago Sum­mit, as these lines are writ­ten, which is al­ready a pointer to their reserva- tions about the fu­ture of Afghanistan. The only coun­try that will be happy with the long-term US pres­ence in Afghanistan is In­dia, which has in­vested bil­lions of dol­lars and is plan­ning to fur­ther strengthen its strate­gic part­ner­ship as well as its peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tacts with the Afghans.

An­other im­por­tant point about the fu­ture of Afghanistan is the ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in the coun­try. The next pres­i­den­tial elec­tions are sched­uled to be held in 2014. Since Hamid Karzai will be com­plet­ing his sec­ond term the same year, and un­der the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion, he can­not stand for a third term in of­fice, it is un­clear as to who will be the next pres­i­dent of Afghanistan.

Look­ing at the level of po­lit­i­cal aware­ness and the still dom­i­nant role played by trib­al­ism, it is un­likely that the ma­jor­ity eth­nic Pash­tuns would agree on a per­son other than a Pash­tun even though elected through the use of vote. One such ex­pected can­di­date might be former for­eign min­is­ter, Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who is an eth­nic Ta­jik.

It may or may not be a de­lib­er­ate act on the part of Hamid Karzai but there is no proper can­di­date for the Afghan pres­i­dency among eth­nic Pash­tuns in 2014. This vac­uum may cause po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in the sys­tem that can hardly be called sta­ble and the lead­er­ship ques­tion may spark tribal and eth­nic con­flict, which will only ben­e­fit the Tal­iban and other desta­bi­liz­ing forces in the re­gion.

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