United States-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Deal: Perpetuation of Occupation

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan Issues

The draft of the United States-Afghanistan partnership agreement was recently signed in the Afghan capital Kabul and the two countries’ presidents are supposed to finalize it before NATO’s Chicago summit on Afghanistan, which is set to be held in late May.

Aside from the arguments proponents and opponents of US-Afghan strategic cooperation deal put forward inside Afghanistan itself, one would be well advised to assess the agreement and its potential implications after its final endorsement and publication. In the initial and general estimate, however, one may be able to examine the expectations of the US and Afghan governments from the deal as well as the objectives they seek to fulfill by signing it. In other words, before making any judgment, it is necessary to work out what the United States and Afghanistan expect from this partnership pact first.

A. The US Strategic Objectives

There is no doubt that Washington pursues goals beyond the scope of Afghanistan in its effort to finalize the recent cooperation treaty with Kabul. The notion that by invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US sought to combat terrorism and Al-Qaeda is a conception remote from realist thinking to some extent. According to this notion, the United States has led a successful crisis management in the Asian country rather than put an end to the crisis. Militarily speaking, however, the US-Afghan strategic partnership is primarily aimed at exercising control over the region and economically speaking, it seeks to control the region’s oil and gas reserves as well as its transfer routes to the global consumption markets through eliminating Russian and Iranian initiatives, which can indeed be fulfilled via reconciliation with the Taliban.

B. Expectations of the Afghan Government

Nowadays, one may see the real opponents of the US-Afghan strategic pact among independent forces in Afghanistan who raise serious arguments and harbour grave concerns about the future of their country as well as its national independence, stability and progress, but are not able enough to influence the general course of things. It seems that arguments for or against this agreement do not have much impact upon its final endorsement. Indeed, the pact will ultimately be signed and according to it between five and seven military bases will be provided to the United States at least until 2024 while the deal will be extended afterwards. Taking this prediction into account, one should consider the domestic, regional and international consequences of such a venture.

1) Domestic Consequences of Afghan-US Strategic Partnership Deal: The long-term presence of American forces in Afghanistan will transform the political, economic and cultural structure of this traditional-tribal Asian country. Such a presence requires in the first place making reconciliation with the Taliban and the anti-government armed forces, which consist of the three major groups of Quetta Shura - the Taliban’s supreme leadership council – the Haqqani Network and the Islamic Party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Conceding some parts of the Afghan geographical territory to the Taliban will be tantamount to changing the current government’s relatively centralized power structure and a moving towards establishing a federal system of governance instead.

It is not clear how a federal establishment, which is basically suitable for more advanced societies, can be adapted to a tribal country like Afghanistan, some analysts have pessimistically interpreted it as a prelude to the ethnic division of Afghanistan into Pashtunstan – belonging to Pashtun people in the east and south - on the one hand and Khorasan – limited to non-Pashtun tribes in the northern parts of the country – on the other. This plan might, in the most moderate form, conform to the expectations of the National Coalition of Afghanistan led by Abdullah Abdullah and turn the country’s system of governance into a parliamentary rather than federal one while leading it, via a more calculated scheme, towards decentralization and partial devolution of power to provinces and their governors. The problem, however, is that in a country like Afghanistan, developments quickly take on an ethnic-religious flavour and end in destructive alignments and confrontations.

2) Regional Consequences of the Afghan-US Deal: The strategic cooperation agreement between the United States and Afghanistan and the ensuing concession of military bases inside the Afghan territory to American forces would severely undermine the position of Pakistan and render it highly vulnerable. And needless to say, in the regional equation of power, the weakening of Pakistan would benefit its old rival and neighbour, India. But, this is not the only problem: According to the plan proposed by the US General David Petraeus, the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan or the Durand Line for the Pashtun people will be removed and thus only recognized by the Afghan and Pakistani governments only. In more simple words, the plan means that the Pakistani regions that are populated by Pashtun tribes will be in a situation similar to the Pashtun-residing areas in Afghanistan and conceded to the Pakistani Taliban. Such developments will make Pakistan vulnerable and confront its future with uncertainty and ambiguity. Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Iran would become concerned about the strategic treaty between its eastern neighbour and the United States, its declared nemesis. Among the military bases estimated to be conceded to the US forces are the Shindand air base in Herat and Kandahar military site near the Afghan-Iranian border, which are both aimed most probably at controlling Iran and keeping a close watch on its activities.

3) International Consequences of US-Afghan Strategic Deal: The strategic partnership pact between Washington and Kabul will intensify the international rivalries between China, Russia and the United States. Though the issue alone is not expected to spark off a new cold war between the East and the West at the scale of the conflict witnessed during the bipolar era, it can serve as a prelude to such a development as the initiative has, at the regional level, pushed Pakistan towards more proximity with Iran and China while prompting India to establish closer ties with the United States.

At all events, if we consider two parallel goals for the US in Afghanistan – of which the first is to contain China and other powers in the region and the other to bring Sunni-affiliated radicalism represented by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda under control – then the strategic partnership agreement between Washington and Kabul will fulfill both objectives, at least in principle. What will take place in practice is a separate matter and depends upon various factors, all of which are not controlled by the United States. Yet, regardless of whether Hamid Karzai will remain in power or not, the US and Afghan governments have common interests in the continuation of American military presence in Afghanistan.

Key Words: Strategic Partnership Agreement, US, Afghanistan, Military Bases, NATO, National Independence, Mollazehi

More By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi:

*New Middle East and the Model of Islamic Power:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم