Revisiting US - Afghanistan Security Agreement

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan Issues

Negotiations on the bilateral security and military agreement between the governments of the United States and Afghanistan were carried out under almost unequal conditions. Informed sources have noted that the agreement is supposed to set a framework for the presence of the US military forces in Afghanistan well beyond 2014, when Afghan forces are supposed to take charge of the security affairs in Afghanistan after the foreign troops leave the war-stricken country. However, there are heated debates underway in political and media circles of Kabul over this agreement. There are a number of points about the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan which call for more attention:

1. The issue of capitulation and the judicial immunity conferred upon the American forces posted in Afghanistan;

2. Establishment of permanent and temporary military bases by the US army in Afghanistan;

3. The mission of the American forces posted in Afghanistan; and

4. The duration of military and security agreements as well as the best way for its extension or possible termination.

There are various discussions underway as to every one of these points. The central government of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sufficed to saying that the agreement for military and security cooperation with the United States has been signed within framework of the US - Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. However, such cursory remarks are far from adequate to dispel all the concerns which may follow the signing of the agreement both inside Afghanistan and at regional and international levels. Within Afghanistan, the issue of conferring judicial immunity to the American military personnel is the most important and the most serious concern. The reason is that such an immunity is directly related to national sovereignty of Afghanistan. Most analysts maintain that conferring judicial immunity to the American soldiers in Afghanistan will be a violation of the country’s national sovereignty. They have argued that such a concession is a legacy of the past colonial times when it was called capitulation, and is reminder of the bitterest instances of unequal and unilateral relations to the benefit of the dominant colonialistic power. This issue was met with headstrong resistance of the Iraqi people and government, forcing the United States to take all its forces out of the Arab country.

However, the reality is that the situation in Iraq was totally different from the existing circumstances in Afghanistan. The government of Karzai is faced with more restrictions and bottlenecks than were there in Iraq and these problems have greatly reduced his maneuvering power. The risk of renewed empowerment of the Taliban through forceful means has put the Afghan government in a position of weakness and the United States has been exploiting that weakness in order to impose its own conditions on Kabul in bilateral agreement on military and security cooperation. Therefore, through a more realistic approach, it should be admitted that Hamid Karzai is basically not in conditions which would enable him, like the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to put the Americans in such a predicament that they would be forced to leave his country. As a result of this situation, the United States is very likely to get the judicial immunity for its troops approved by Afghan officials in accordance to this new agreement despite all protests which have been put up by the public opinion in Afghanistan.

The second important issue is the establishment of temporary and permanent military bases by the United States in Afghanistan according to environmental exigencies; those exigencies will be, of course, determined by the Americans. They say that the United States is planning to establish at least five important and permanent bases in west, north, south and central Afghanistan whose geographical distribution will be directly related to military and strategic goals of the United States in the region. Therefore, more than being of use for boosting security inside Afghanistan, they will be used as monitoring bases to keep an eye on regional countries which are real or potential rivals of the United States. It is general understanding that the northern US base in Mazar-e-Sharif will be monitoring Russia while Shindand base in the western city of Herat will watch Iran. The proposed bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar will observe developments in India, and the US base in Bagram will keep an eye on China. Through such an understanding one may see why all regional countries are seriously concerned about long-term military presence of the United States in Afghanistan and some of them have even made no effort to hide their security concerns. However, the current level of optimism about Afghanistan being in a situation to correctly understand the concerns of other countries, especially its neighbors, is not very high. It appears that the Afghan officials are seemingly hopeful that the presence of the US military bases on their soil will not have an important negative impact on relations between Kabul and its neighboring countries. Therefore, they have been emphasizing that they will not allow the United States military bases to be used to threaten the security of other countries in the neighborhood of Afghanistan. The existing and past experiences, however, have frequently refuted such a conclusion at various places and various times. Afghanistan is not expected to have a different experience compared to other countries when it is put to test in a similar situation.

As for the real mission of the American forces in Afghanistan, they have noted that no American trooper will take part in direct combat with the Taliban or any other hostile Afghan group after 2014. Their mission will be merely giving military training to Afghan forces. However, it is not clear how such a goal could be possibly achieved under conditions when the war between the government in Kabul and the opposition groups will continue. If the Taliban cannot reach an overarching agreement with the government in Kabul before 2014 and the peace is not established, there would be no guarantee that they would not restart attacks on the American bases. Therefore, the mere military presence of the United States within any framework and with any apparent mission will mean continuation of war in the country. Looking from this angle, some analysts strongly believe that the United States is intentionally and purposively keeping up the current ambiguous situation in relation with the Taliban and basically, they do not believe that the United States is actually bent on putting an end to Taliban’s greed for power by the use of military force. The dominant assumption is that maintaining operational capability of the Taliban at a limited level to keep it a factor of threat against the government in Kabul is, in fact, part of the US strategy to prolong its presence in Southwest Asia and there is not much that the Afghan government can do about it. This issue has been necessitated by strategic goals of the United States. Otherwise, the United States knows everything about the Taliban and is quite aware of factors which determine and may increase the power of the Taliban. The bottom line of the United States strategy in Southwest Asia is that Washington is actually managing the crisis in this region, without making any effort to put an end to it.

At any rate, the duration of the military and security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, which is going through final stages of approval, has been announced at 10 years. Therefore, it will be valid from 2014 to 2025. However, it will be too optimistic and very naïve to assume that the United States will totally let go of Afghanistan in 2025. They are sure to work out mechanisms for the extension of the agreement and the United States is sure to repeat the experience of its long-term presence in Japan, South Korea, and all other countries which it has occupied since the end of the World War II. No possible agreement or disagreement is likely to influence the US strategy in Southwest Asia and following Afghanistan, the Central Asia is sure to be the next target of the United States.

Key Words: US, Afghanistan, Security Agreement, Capitulation, Judicial Immunity, Military Bases, Mollazehi 

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