The Day Af­ter

What will hap­pen to Afghanistan af­ter U.S. and NATO forces leave in 2014? It is only the Afghan peo­ple who can find a last­ing so­lu­tion to their prob­lems and the Loya Jirga would be a use­ful step in that di­rec­tion.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Daud Khat­tak The writer is Act­ing Di­rec­tor at Mashaal Ra­dio, RFE/RLPrague, Czech Repub­lic and has cov­ered the Tal­iban move­ment in Pak­istan and Afghanistan. He also con­trib­utes to the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and Sun­day Times.

The Afghan Loya Jirga has fi­nally ap­proved the U.S.-Afghanistan bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment (BSA) on Novem­ber 24, paving way for long-term U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan when the rest of the in­ter­na­tional troops will leave the land­locked coun­try in 2014.

The agree­ment will now be pre­sented to the Afghan par­lia­ment where the gen­eral mood is al­ready sup­port­ive and it is likely that the agree­ment will be ap­proved with­out any hic­cups. This will be a relief for a vast ma­jor­ity of Afghans who see the post-with­drawal U.S. pres­ence as a key to their coun­try’s last­ing peace and se­cu­rity.

How­ever, while the Afghan Loya Jirga, at­tended by around 2500 rep­re­sen­ta­tives, gave Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai the green sig­nal to go ahead with the se­cu­rity pact, a later state­ment of Pres­i­dent Karzai cre­ated a new con­tro­versy about the fu­ture of the BSA.

Ad­dress­ing the open­ing ses­sion of the Loya Jirga, Pres­i­dent Karzai said that the agree­ment might have to wait to be signed un­til af­ter Afghanistan's pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. If Karzai stays true to his words, the BSA is not go­ing to be signed till April 2014.

Re­act­ing to Karzai’s sur­pris­ing state­ment – sur­pris­ing be­cause it came at a time when the Loya Jirga was sit to ap­prove the BSA – the White House said on Novem­ber 22 that it is “im­per­a­tive” that the Afghan au­thor­i­ties con­clude the agree­ment with the United States be­fore the end of De­cem­ber 2013.

“Fail­ure to con­clude the BSA by that point would make it im­pos­si­ble for the United States and our al­lies to plan for a pres­ence (in Afghanistan) post-2014,” White House spokesper­son told a news con­fer­ence on Novem­ber 22.

While it is un­likely that Pres­i­dent Karzai will post­pone the sign­ing of the BSA when the Loya Jirga has al­ready ap­proved it, and the Afghan par­lia­ment is likely to fol­low suit, an­a­lysts be­lieve the Afghan pres­i­dent is des­per­ately try­ing to im­prove his highly flawed im­age with the com­mon Afghans by

giv­ing the im­pres­sion that he is stand­ing up to the Amer­i­cans.

Known for his bluffs over the years, Karzai’s cur­rent move is also be­ing seen as an al­most fu­tile ef­fort to get lever­age ahead of the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and to get con­ces­sions for him­self, his fam­ily and his fa­vorite can­di­date.

What­ever Karzai’s mo­tives are, the Afghans gen­er­ally be­lieve that U.S. pres­ence will not only be a moral boost for the nascent Afghan Army and the po­lice, which will be fight­ing the Tal­iban af­ter the in­ter­na­tional forces’ with­drawal, but also keep the flow of in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance for re­build­ing ef­forts in the war-rav­aged coun­try.

In such a sit­u­a­tion, it is most prob­a­ble that the bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment will be signed within the date set by the United States to en­sure the U.S. and its al­lies pre­pare their plans for the next year.

“Though the terms of the se­cu­rity agree­ment are still not clear to us, if the two sides agreed upon, will send a di­rect mes­sage to Afghanistan’s neigh­bors along­side open­ing ways for con­tin­ued in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance for Afghanistan,” said Bar­mak Pa­jh­wak, Se­nior Pro­gram Of­fi­cer with the United States In­sti­tute of Peace.

He added that the most im­por­tant step in Afghanistan’s tran­si­tion pe­riod would be the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the peace­ful hand­ing over of power from one elected gov­ern­ment to another.

Doubts are be­ing ex­pressed about the hold­ing of the April 2014 pres­i­den­tial polls which comes ahead of the be­gin­ning of the in­ter­na­tional with­drawal and the key ques­tion is the cred­i­bil­ity and le­git­i­macy of the elec­tion process.

Se­ri­ous ques­tions were raised about the 2009 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion when the one time for­eign min­is­ter Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, who was a run­ner-up in the elec­tions, re­fused to ac­cept the re­sults.

Since the Afghan Con­sti­tu­tion bars Pres­i­dent Karzai from con­test­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for a third term, 10 (now 11 con­firmed) strong can­di­dates, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s brother Qayyum Karzai, are in the field this time. Prom­i­nent among them are Dr. Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah, Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ah­madzai, Dr. Zal­mai Ras­soul and for­mer ji­hadi leader Ab­dul Ra­sul Sayaf.

Al­most ev­ery­one among th­ese strong can­di­dates supports the bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment with the United States and be­lieves that the nascent Afghan army will need both tech­ni­cal and ma­te­rial sup­port from their in­ter­na­tional back­ers to guard their coun­try against the Tal­iban and their af­fil­i­ates run­ning safe havens in the bor­der re­gion be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

Apart from a moral boost for the Afghan se­cu­rity forces, the pres­ence of U.S. troops will keep the win­dow of as­sis­tance open and the world com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the United States, will con­tinue keep­ing Afghanistan un­der its radar.

A com­plete U.S. with­drawal will not only leave Afghanistan in to­tal dis­ar­ray but will also af­fect the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan. Since the new Pak­istani gov­ern­ment has time and again voiced sup­port for a sta­ble, peace­ful and pros­per­ing Afghanistan, it is most prob­a­ble that Prime Min­is­ter Sharif’s team is clearly see­ing the per­ils in­volved with the coun­try’s past poli­cies of so­called ‘strate­gic depth’ and in­ter­fer­ence in Afghanistan.

A com­plete with­drawal from Afghanistan means a sig­nal to a civil war in which the Tal­iban are likely to emerge as one of the strong­est par­ties. In that case, it is un­likely that the Pak­istani Tal­iban, presently us­ing the tribal ar­eas as their strong­hold, will not get a moral boost to ex­pand their ac­tiv­i­ties to the set­tled ar­eas and ma­jor cities of Pak­istan.

The se­cu­rity agree­ment, there­fore, will not only keep Afghanistan from slip­ping into another civil war but will also help keep the Pak­istani Tal­iban un­der con­trol. Since Nawaz Sharif’s ad­vi­sor on for­eign af­fairs, Sar­taj Aziz, has al­ready vis­ited Kabul in July 2013, while the prime min­is­ter him­self is set to meet Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai in De­cem­ber in the Afghan cap­i­tal, the signs are vis­i­ble about a con­sid­er­able im­prove­ment in re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries over the past few months.

Ac­cord­ing to Hamid Karzai’s aides, the pres­i­dent has pri­vately ad­mit­ted that he had fruit­ful con­tacts with Nawaz Sharif’s gov­ern­ment which gives enough hope for a new be­gin­ning for the two neigh­bors.

At the same time, PM Nawaz Sharif’s re­al­is­tic ap­proach to­wards his coun­try’s re­la­tions with the United States is also go­ing to play a key role in en­sur­ing peace and sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan and the re­gion.

Al­though sec­tar­i­an­ism in­Afghanistan has never been a se­ri­ous is­sue af­fect­ing the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of that coun­try, the roots of eth­nic di­vi­sions have been con­sid­er­ably strength­ened over the past few decades. With an army not fully trained and equipped, and faced with a ruth­less enemy (the Tal­iban), a com­plete with­drawal can bring the coun­try face to face with another civil war as has been seen in Iraq over the past few years.

It is this re­al­ity that pushes the Afghans, both Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and his op­po­nents alike, to go for a bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity agree­ment (BSA) de­spite reser­va­tions at some lev­els.

“We worked very hard, as for­eign min­is­ter, my col­leagues in the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, the Min­istry of Fi­nance and oth­ers to take into con­sid­er­a­tion in this BSA the na­tional in­ter­ests and sovereignty of Afghanistan,” said pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Zal­mai Ras­soul in a re­cent in­ter­view with the Wall Street Jour­nal.

A vast ma­jor­ity of Afghans be­lieve only the BSA could keep the coun­try united and safe from in­ter­nal in­sta­bil­ity and for­eign in­ter­fer­ence.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.