FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Understanding Karzai’s Role in Determining Afghanistan’s Future

The controversy surrounding the bilateral Security Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is more complex than a stubborn Afghan president. President Karzai is playing the weighing game. On one side of the scale rests the centerpiece of the U.S. War on Terror, something the United States is reluctant to compromise. On the other, is the possibility for an Afghan peace process that includes the Taliban. Poor President Karzai, at the end of an exhausting term, is faced with the most important decision of his Presidency, where a misstep in either direction could mean indefinite war or Taliban takeover.

Afghanistan has significant sovereign incentives to sign the security pact. Foremost among the benefits is that money would keep flowing to development projects and security entities. Moreover, if the Karzai government and its successor are committed to fighting Taliban insurgency, neither current nor prospective regime can hope to succeed without support from the United States. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) are undersupplied, undertrained, and undermanned—a bad combination for taking on insurgency alone.

But wait—there are more carrots for the Afghans. Under Article 8 of the agreement, the U.S. would consent to sign over the title and deed of any permanent U.S. facility—or in docuspeak ‘non-relocatable structure’—to the Afghan government upon completion of its mission in Afghanistan. This would be an infrastructural and strategic boon for the Afghan military.

Under intense pressure from the United States, Karzai risks abandonment in delaying signature of the agreement. The Obama administration has not minced words. National Security Advisor Susan Rice issued a statement after a meeting with Karzai in late November, indicating that if an agreement were not signed ‘promptly’ the U.S. would begin planning for the so-called zero option. Afghanistan’s occupational compatriot Iraq has felt the painful repercussions of the zero option, currently sporting its highest levels of casualties and insurgent activity since 2008. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari recently paid a visit to President Karzai, ostensibly to offer advice on how to negotiate with the United States. A repeat of the Iraqi zero-option disaster is a very real possibility in Afghanistan. In the Afghan case it is certainly not unreasonable to argue that the Taliban would reclaim vast swathes of territory, including Kabul, upon the departure of foreign forces. The danger here ought not be understated.

Despite the potent risks of full withdrawal, the unyielding media refrain ‘why is Karzai so stubborn,’ misses important reasons for the Afghan President’s hesitance to sign the agreement in haste. There are two big reasons and one little reason. Starting with the little one. The agreement would allow any entity contracted by the U.S. Armed Services or Department of Defense to operate in Afghanistan tax-free and with limited licensing (Art. 16 Sec. 4 and Art. 11 Sec. 2). Furthermore, Afghan utilities would be lawfully obliged to offer these contractors—along with foreign military personnel—the same low rates that the domestic ANDSF receives (Art. 12 Sec. 1). As has been shown time and again—in great disrespect to the neoliberal paradigm—giving tax breaks to foreign corporations is bad economic development; an unattractive route for an already debilitated Afghan economy.

Another factor weighing heavily on Karzai’s mind is popular opinion. Yes Afghanistan has elections, and yes public opinion matters. Irresponsible and in many cases criminal acts have been carried out by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Oversight of these issues by DoD, the State Department, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been hit or miss at best. Some offenders have faced justice back in the U.S. while others have not, just ask Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill. This has served to deeply alienate large swaths of the Afghan populace, a body Karzai has rightly chosen to heed.

As a result, President Karzai is insisting on the inclusion of a clause categorically forbidding entry of U.S. military forces into Afghan private residencies. Article 7 (sec. 3) of the draft agreement says that the U.S. “shall not target Afghan civilians, including in their homes,” a standard that regrettably must be reiterated. Karzai demands more, and rightly so. There can be little hope for success against insurgency if the populace is equally scared of foreign forces and the Taliban. The current strategy of executing or disappearing innocent Afghan civilians indicates how seriously the military and political establishment in the United States takes the winning ‘Hearts and Minds’ approach. Gung-ho JSOC killers tend to see themselves as ‘terrorist hunters’ rather than peace corp volunteers.

Finally—the most important of Karzai’s internal debates, that has received the scantest media coverage, is the possibility of peace. If he allows foreign forces to stay, the prospect of an accord with the Taliban evaporates. Attaching his signature to the bilateral agreement sets in stone indefinite conflict. As long as ‘infidels’—and by this the Taliban mean occupying forces of current or historical colonial regimes—remain in Afghanistan, moderate members of the Taliban will be marginalized and the hardliners will stay in business. More Afghan soldiers will die, more U.S. soldiers will die, more insurgents will die, and more Afghan civilians will bloat an ever-increasing body of tragedy.

This is the choice Karzai confronts: weighing the possibility of Taliban takeover against a hope for reconciliation. It isn’t simple, it isn’t sure, and it certainly isn’t easy. The fate of a nation, rarely party to peace, rests in his hands. Maybe we all should give the guy a break.

Sam Kierstead is a student in the School of International Studies at American University.

 

More articles by:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail