On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai created a preliminary draft of the Bilateral Security Agreement guaranteeing the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal in 2014. Before the negotiations this weekend, two primary disputes between Afghan and American officials nearly ended the negotiations, which could have resulted in the “zero option,” or the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 2014.
First, Afghan officials demanded a guarantee of American defense if an external power attacked Afghanistan. Second, Afghan officials wanted U.S. officials to coordinate all attacks on extremist militants with Afghan intelligence personnel.
Although the details of the negotiations are far from clear at the time of this article, both sides have reached a preliminary agreement regarding both of these disputes. On Saturday night, President Karzai stated, “Tonight we reached some sort of agreement … the United States will no longer conduct operations by themselves. We have been provided a written guarantee of the safety of the Afghan people.” However, one thorny issue remains. Afghan and American officials have not resolved the question of immunity for U.S. troops from prosecution under Afghan law. This is an issue of great significance, especially considering that the question of immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq was a primary motivation for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2010. President Karzai will take this issue of immunity as well as the preliminary draft of the Bilateral Security Agreement to the Loya Jirga, an Afghan tribal assembly, next month for approval. If approved by the Loya Jirga, the draft of the Bilateral Security Agreement will then be taken to the Afghan Parliament for approval.
The issue of the Bilateral Security Agreement generates interesting questions regarding Afghanistan after 2014. An escalation of Taliban attacks against Afghan civilians, Afghan military personnel and coalition forces seems to suggest that the Taliban is determined to undermine the authority of the U.S.-supported Afghan central government. But interestingly, Taliban officials have pledged that Taliban forces would not commit terrorist attacks outside of Afghan soil, according to anonymous American officials reporting to The Washington Post.
With these motivations in mind, U.S. policymakers must seriously reflect on their goals for Afghanistan in the months before the drawdown of U.S. troops. Is the goal of the United States to continue to support the central government it has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives to defend? If this is so, the United States must be prepared to spend billions of dollars in aid to support a fundamentally nondemocratic government with a weak economy for years to come.
Or is the goal of the United States simply to eliminate threats to the U.S. mainland from Afghanistan, rather than focus on the fate of the Afghan government? These are important questions U.S. policymakers must finish answering before the implementation of the Bilateral Security Agreement next year.
Vinod Kannuthurai is a senior public policy leadership major from Hazlehurst.