AFGHANISTAN

Con­tin­u­ing Se­cu­rity

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Dr. Raza Khan

Wash­ing­ton also has dis­played fur­ther com­mit­ment to Afghanistan when in late Novem­ber Pres­i­dent Obama in a pol­icy shift has de­cided to ex­tend the com­bat role of U.S. forces in Afghanistan into 2015, al­low­ing troops to keep fight­ing the Tal­iban and other mil­i­tant groups that threaten Amer­i­can sol­diers or the Afghan gov­ern­ment.

The sign­ing of the long-de­layed Bi­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Agree­ment (BSA) be­tween the United Sates and Afghanistan would also en­sure that the lat­ter does not fall into to­tal chaos yet again once the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion forces with­draw from the coun­try.

The BSA, which was finalized by Wash­ing­ton and Kabul after years of in­ter­locu­tions, could not be put into prac­tice due to the re­fusal of out­go­ing Afghan pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai to sign it. Karzai left it to the in­com­ing pres­i­dent to ap­prove or re­ject the agree­ment. When the new pres­i­dent, Dr. Ashraf Ghani, took the oath of of­fice he did not waste time in rat­i­fy­ing the BSA.

The terms of the BSA pro­vide for the con­tin­ued pres­ence of around 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond the cut-off date of De­cem­ber 31, 2014, for the with­drawal of all in­ter­na­tional, mostly Amer­i­can, com­bat forces from Afghanistan. The se­cu­rity agree­ment also ac­knowl­edges the U.S. le­gal ju­ris­dic­tion over its troops and De­fense Depart­ment civil­ians, while con­trac­tors would be sub­ject to the Afghan ju­di­cial process. The pact stip­u­lates that the US coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tions will take place in co­or­di­na­tion with the Afghans, with the Afghan forces in the lead. The agree­ment also notes that US troops will not con­duct com­bat op­er­a­tions un­less they are ’mu­tu­ally agreed to’ by the U.S. and the Afghans. The BSA also au­tho­rizes the U.S. to have a string of air bases across Afghanistan.

Against this back­drop the new pol­icy of Pres­i­dent Obama to ex­tend the com­bat role of US forces in Afghanistan con­tra­venes the pro­vi­sion of the BSA. How­ever, it was nec­es­sary. Be­cause with­out a role in fight­ing es­pe­cially in pro­vid­ing cover to Afghan mil­i­tary, US forces pres­ence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, would be mean­ing­less. So this is a ra­tio­nal decision to be made in the cir­cum­stances.

Pres­i­dent Ghani took no time to sign the BSA after com­ing to power. This demon­strates that he has as­sumed a pro-Wash­ing­ton pos­ture from the very out­set. The mas­sive chal­lenges that Dr. Ghani has to deal

with, in­clud­ing the Afghan Tal­iban in­sur­gency, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and shat­tered econ­omy, ne­ces­si­tate Kabul’s con­tin­ued re­liance on the U.S., the most re­source­ful coun­try of the world. Wash­ing­ton fa­cil­i­tated Ghani’s ef­forts to be­come pres­i­dent by con­vinc­ing his main ri­val Ab­d­u­al­lah Ab­dul­lah to give up his protest over the al­leged fraud in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. In re­turn, Ab­dul­lah was given the po­si­tion of chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

Since a le­gal ar­range­ment was nec­es­sary for Wash­ing­ton to main­tain its mil­i­tary pres­ence in Afghanistan, it was per­turbed by the de­lay and wanted to get the BSA signed at the ear­li­est. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had an­nounced in 2012 that the U.S. would with­draw all its com­bat troops from Afghanistan by De­cem­ber 31, 2014. Only a mu­tual se­cu­rity agree­ment could en­able the U.S. to keep a siz­able num­ber of its troops in Afghanistan.

The BSA will be in­stru­men­tal in pro­tect­ing the po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional ed­i­fice of Afghanistan from crum­bling down in the face of an Afghan Tal­iban in­sur­gency. In such a sit­u­a­tion, the BSA will serve as an um­brella for state in­sti­tu­tions to have the re­quired strength. For in­stance, it will help the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces ( ANSF) to hold their own against the Tal­iban’s armed re­sis­tance. With­out the ANSF de­vel­op­ing the ca­pac­ity to pro­vide se­cu­rity to the Afghan state, its in­sti­tu­tions and its cit­i­zens, the in­sur­gency could not be quashed. At the same time, there could be no mean­ing­ful re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment process with­out the ANSF hav­ing the re­quired strength.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ANSF has not been able to de­velop the ca­pac­ity to pro­tect Afghanistan and its in­sti­tu­tions from in­ter­nal threats let alone ex­ter­nal ones. This is de­spite the fact that in com­par­i­son to the num­ber of Afghan Tal­iban fight­ers, whose strength can­not be more than 30,000 to 40,000, the num­ber of ANSF per­son­nel is nearly 0.35 mil­lion. More­over, the ANSF is heav­ily armed and trained by the U.S. and in­ter­na­tional forces.

Although the BSA does not have a di­rect role in en­sur­ing po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan, it could have a very strong in­di­rect bear­ing on the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. The con­tin­ued pres­ence of US forces might com­pel the Afghan Tal­iban to give sec­ond thoughts to what they have been re­ject­ing con­stantly – join­ing the po­lit­i­cal process. The Afghan Tal­iban have been ar­gu­ing since long that they will talk to the Afghan au­thor­i­ties once all the in­ter­na­tional forces leave Afghanistan. Although this has not hap­pened, war weari­ness has gripped the Tal­iban. Know­ing well the level of com­mit­ment within the ranks of the ANSF – ev­i­dent from the alarm­ing dropout rate of their per­son­nel – the Tal­iban were hop­ing for an all-out on­slaught on the gov­ern­ment forces once the in­ter­na­tional forces pull out. Such an of­fen­sive on some parts of the ANSF could have lac­er­ated it. Although the cal­cu­la­tions of the Tal­iban were not re­al­is­tic to be­gin with, now with around 10,000 U.S. troops stay­ing back in Afghanistan, they can­not even think of turn­ing the ta­bles on the Afghan state forces.

Fa­tigued with war weari­ness, the Tal­iban are likely to re­al­ize that the ANSF could not be de­feated in the pres­ence of U.S. forces, hence they might join the po­lit­i­cal process. How­ever, if such a pos­si­bil­ity arises, the Tal­iban may try to en­sure the im­ple­men­ta­tion of some of their key de­mands such as en­force­ment of Shariah in Afghanistan. To what ex­tent the Afghan gov­ern­ment will con­cede to their de­mands de­pends on the strength of the Afghan Tal­iban.

Against this back­drop, Afghanistan must use the BSA with the U.S. to build the ca­pac­ity of its mil­i­tary and po­lice per­son­nel so that it no longer re­quires the as­sis­tance of for­eign forces for the pro­tec­tion of its state in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses. Kabul must be cog­nizant of the fact that the pres­ence of U.S. forces and bases can­not be in­ter­minable. Afghanistan – or for that mat­ter Hamid Karzai, who was the head of state since the ouster of the Tal­iban – failed to put things on the right track de­spite the pres­ence of thou­sands of in­ter­na­tional troops and in­jec­tions of bil­lions of dol­lars in aid.

How­ever, here the ques­tion arises that would Afghanistan uti­lize the rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity of­fered by the BSA and the ex­ten­sion of com­bat role of US forces beyond 2014 to build its key state in­sti­tu­tions and en­hance their ca­pac­ity? This de­pends on the Afghan lead­er­ship. For­tu­nately, for the first time in many decades Afghanistan has a gen­uine and ed­u­cated head of state. Dr. Ghani holds Ph.D in eco­nomics and is said to have all what it takes to es­tab­lish a mod­ern econ­omy in Afghanistan. Mod­ern­iza­tion and strength of Afghan econ­omy could be in­stru­men­tal in build­ing the ca­pac­ity of other state in­sti­tu­tions. At the same time Pres­i­dent Ghani would also have to build the ca­pac­ity of the ANSF and the U.S. forces con­tin­ued pres­ence in Afghanistan could be used to at­tain the ob­jec­tive. But for this Pres­i­dent Ghani has to choose his min­is­ters and ad­vis­ers very care­fully.

In­stead of cleans­ing the state in­sti­tu­tions of ram­pant cor­rup­tion, sloth and mis­man­age­ment when he was in power, Karzai and his team have been blam­ing for­eign el­e­ments, par­tic­u­larly Pak­istan, for Afghanistan’s mis­eries to ab­solve them­selves of any re­spon­si­bil­ity. The oft-re­peated ar­gu­ment and charge in this re­gard is that Is­lam­abad pro­vides support to the Afghan Tal­iban. When ne­go­ti­a­tions on the se­cu­rity agree­ment had be­gun, Karzai had de­manded a full-fledged de­fense treaty with the U.S. and the lat­ter’s readi­ness to re­spond mil­i­tar­ily to “ag­gres­sion” by other na­tions, specif­i­cally Pak­istan. In fact, Karzai wanted the U.S. forces to at­tack Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and peo­ple.

On one point, when the ne­go­ti­a­tions on the BSA had hit snags, Karzai’s spokesman Ai­mal Faizi had said: “We be­lieve that when ter­ror­ists are sent to com­mit sui­cide at­tacks here, that is also ag­gres­sion. We are a strate­gic part­ner of the U.S. and we must be pro­tected against for­eign ag­gres­sion. For us and for the U.S., that’s the con­flict­ing point. We are not of the same opin­ion and we need clar­ity from the U.S. side.” How­ever, Wash­ing­ton re­fused to in­clude any Pak­istan-spe­cific clause in the BSA.

Un­der Dr. Ghani’s ed­u­cated lead­er­ship one ex­pects that Kabul will mend its old ways. The chal­lenges for Afghanistan in the post-in­ter­na­tional forces with­drawal pe­riod are mas­sive. That could be met with acu­men, diplo­macy and tact in­stead of blame game. The BSA, and the rel­a­tive sta­bil­ity it of­fers, is a rare op­por­tu­nity for Afghanistan to build its key in­sti­tu­tions and their ca­pac­ity. Oth­er­wise the coun­try is likely to face to­tal chaos.

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