The Amer­i­can re­ac­tion

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Na­j­mud­din A Shaikh

IN the days that have passed since Amer­i­can De­fence Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel vis­ited Kabul and re­ceived a less than cor­dial wel­come from Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, there has been no vis­i­ble im­prove­ment in re­la­tions be­tween the Karzai ad­min­is­tra­tion and the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force.

The fact that two Amer­i­cans and some oth­ers were killed in a “green-on-blue” at­tack the day af­ter Karzai made his speech crit­i­cis­ing Amer­ica and the Tal­iban was prob­a­bly a co­in­ci­dence. But the speech it­self blam­ing the two for col­lud­ing to cre­ate se­cu­rity con­di­tions to jus­tify a con­tin­ued Amer­i­can pres­ence, was deemed provoca­tive.

US and Nato com­man­der Gen Joseph Dun­ford is­sued an ad­vi­sory to his com­man­ders in the field ask­ing them to be ex­tra alert af­ter what he termed an in­flam­ma­tory speech that could trig­ger in­sider at­tacks by Afghan forces against Western­ers.

He even went on

to say

that “he [Karzai] may is­sue or­ders that put our forces at risk”. It is dif­fi­cult to think of any­thing else that could bet­ter de­scribe how pre­car­i­ous the Afghan-Amer­i­can re­la­tion­ship has be­come.

Af­ter a call from US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry, Karzai did ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tance of work­ing with Amer­ica and main­tained: “My re­cent com­ments were meant to help re­form, not de­stroy the re­la­tion­ship.” He did not, how­ever, re­tract his charges of Tal­iban-Amer­i­can col­lu­sion or change his adamant stand on the trans­fer of Ba­gram’s Par­wan prison un­con­di­tion­ally to Afghan au­thor­i­ties.

In sub­se­quent con­ver­sa­tions with Dun­ford, Karzai’s of­fice claimed it had been agreed that the trans­fer would be com­pleted within a week but the Amer­i­can state­ment on the sub­ject went no fur­ther than stat­ing that the next week would be used to work out the is­sues.

It does not seem likely

that

the Amer­i­cans will agree to the trans­fer un­less they are given as­sur­ances that the three dozen or so pris­on­ers the Amer­i­cans re­gard as “en­dur­ing se­cu­rity threats” will not be re­leased by the Afghan ju­di­cial sys­tem.

And therein lies the rub. If one un­der­stands Karzai it would ap­pear that be­yond the pub­licly stated po­si­tion of as­sert­ing Afghan sovereignty Karzai does want to re­lease th­ese mostly Pakhtun pris­on­ers be­cause of the in­flu­ence they en­joy in the Pakhtun-dom­i­nated ar­eas of south and east Afghanistan.

Per­haps he be­lieves that th­ese pris­on­ers will on re­lease be­come the ve­hi­cle for di­a­logue with the Tal­iban lead­er­ship that Karzai says he des­per­ately wants as a means of ad­vanc­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. More likely he hopes that they will gal­vanise sup­port in the Pakhtun belt for the can­di­date he puts for­ward for next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

In the mean­while, Karzai’s speech has pro­voked re­ac­tions both within Afghanistan and in the West. In Washington a se­na­tor, Lind­sey Gra­ham, in­volved in Afghan pol­icy has been quoted as be­ing ready to “pull the plug” on as­sis­tance to Afghanistan. The New York Times in an ed­i­to­rial has called Karzai’s be­hav­iour “ap­palling” and opined that “it will make it harder for Mr Obama to ar­gue com­pellingly to keep a smaller coun­tert­er­ror­ism and train­ing force in Afghanistan into 2015 and be­yond”.

In Kabul, a group of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 14 po­lit­i­cal par­ties — most of them op­po­si­tion groups but sev­eral with mem­bers in government — held a news con­fer­ence to de­nounce the pres­i­dent’s stance.

On the other hand, there have been demon­stra­tions in Maidan War­dak and Kabul call­ing for the im­me­di­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Karzai or­der to re­move all Amer­i­can forces from War­dak.

The Afghan Ulema Coun­cil, all gov- ern­ment ap­pointees, have made a sim­i­lar de­mand in a state­ment which called the Amer­i­cans “in­fi­dels” and threat­ened that if they [the Amer­i­cans] did not “hon­our their com­mit­ments then this [their pres­ence in Afghanistan] will be con­sid­ered as an oc­cu­pa­tion, and they may ex­pect to see a re­ac­tion to their ac­tion”.

The Amer­i­cans cur­rently are adamant that this con­tretemps will not af­fect their mil­i­tary plans but the truth is that if there is an in­crease in “green-on-blue” at­tacks it is not only a resid­ual pres­ence but also an or­derly Amer­i­can with­drawal that will be­come a night­mare. Bri­tish com­men­ta­tors are grimly re­call­ing the fate of Bri­tish troops in the First and Sec­ond Afghan wars. The ac­cepted ax­iom that “re­treat is of­ten the most dan­ger­ous part of a de­ploy­ment es­pe­cially when the mil­i­tary falls be­low the crit­i­cal mass re­quired to pro­tect it­self” will cer­tainly ap­ply if by April 2014, 34,000 troops are with­drawn. This would leave half the num­ber to carry out their own with­drawal and that of the $48 bil­lion worth of equip­ment cur­rently in Afghanistan, which would re­quire the move­ment of 95,000 con­tain­ers and 35,000 ve­hi­cles.

Amer­ica will do what it can to avoid such a sit­u­a­tion. One way is to pur­sue rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with or with­out Karzai. The Afghan pres­i­dent’s op­po­nents have now made pub­lic their ef­forts, un­doubt­edly with Amer­i­can sup­port, to seek re­con-cil­i­a­tion with the “armed” op­po­si­tion. An As­so­ci­ated Press story by Kathy Gan­non, eas­ily the West­ern cor­re­spon­dent with the best con­nec­tions with Afghan politi­cians and knowl­edge­able Pak­ista­nis, re­cently said that the 20-party Coun­cil of Co­op­er­a­tion of Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties which counts among its num­bers some heavy­weight Afghan politi­cians, many part of Karzai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, is reach­ing out to both the Tal­iban and Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar. And that two se­nior Tal­iban of­fi­cials have in­di­cated the group is will­ing to pur­sue talks.

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