Standoff remain over US-Afghan security pact

Updated: 2013-12-24 15:02


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KABUL - The standoff over failure of the Afghan government to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States by the year-end appeared to mover little.  

In November, President Hamid Karzai convened the traditional Loya Jirga or grand assembly of tribal elders and notables to get its approval for the BSA which is aimed at legalizing a limited presence of American forces in Afghanistan after the complete pullout of NATO-led troops from the country in 2014.

At the end of its four-day meeting on Nov 24, the Loya Jirga, which was attended by some 2,500 delegates from all over the country, endorsed the BSA and urged Karzai to sign it before the year-end.

However, Karzai refused to sign the accord until after a new president is elected on April 5, 2014 or unless Washington meets preconditions which include immediate halt of US raid on Afghan residences, ensuring viable security and supporting meaningful peace talks with the Taliban.

The White House has urged Karzai to sign the BSA by the end of 2013 to enable the US to have enough time for planning and deciding the number of troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

In spite of an overwhelming Afghan support for the BSA, including most members of parliament, Karzai has categorically pointed out that he is not in a hurry to sign it because he does not trust Americans.

A meeting between Karzai and James Dobbins, US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, on December 6 reportedly failed to convince the Afghan president to sign the pact.

Dobbins was quoted as saying that if the BSA was not signed, there would be a civil war in the country. He reportedly stressed to Karzai that the US may resort to a "zero option" wherein it would totally remove its military presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen have also warned that the US and its allies will stop all assistance to the country if the BSA is not signed.

Karzai resisted the US pressure by reportedly saying that the US has been acting as colonial power to get the controversial pact inked according to its wishes.

Analysts said that Kabul granted immunity to American forces in exchange for their help to ensure political stability and strengthen defense capability, however, Washington wanted to keep military presence in Afghanistan out of consideration for anti- terrorism and geostrategy. But the lack of mutual trust signals tough prospect for security cooperation.  

The 350,000-strong Afghan national security forces have almost completed takeover of the combat operations in the country from the NATO-led coalition forces.

"We are 13 months away to the end of ISAF mission, and ISAF handed over the responsibility to provide security across Afghanistan to our Afghan partners in June this year, we are now providing support to our Afghan partners, we train, advice and assist the Afghan National Security Forces and that is our number one mission right now," spokesman of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Brigadier General Heinz Feldmann told Xinhua recently.

But in spite of, or probably because of, the transfer of the security charge to the Afghan government, the Taliban have been emboldened to stage more ambuscades and suicide attacks, killing hundreds of Afghans, including civilians.

A report released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in July this year had documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries in the first half of the outgoing year.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi admitted that the reduced air support to government troops by NATO forces has encouraged Taliban attacks and eventually increased the number of casualties among government troops in 2013.

"The main challenge of Afghan national security forces is poor equipment and lack of adequate air force," Azimi said.

Though, Afghan officials seem confident that the national security forces are able to fight terrorism and defend the country ' s boundaries, public opinions are worrying about the future.

Ordinary Afghans doubt the capability of national security forces, believing that the total withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan would pave the way for capital flight from the country and eventually the return of Taliban militants to power.  

It is for this reason that the Karzai government has desperately pursued peace negotiations with the Taliban and sought Pakistan's help in the process of reconciliation.

So far, however, efforts toward this end have not been successful despite Islamabad's pledge to assist in the peace process.

Islamabad has reportedly released some three dozen Taliban detainees including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second in command in the armed outfit's hierarchy.

Baradar, who was captured by Pakistani authorities in 2010 and released at the request of Kabul in September 2013, has played no tangible role in speeding up the peace process.

Afghan analyst Ahmad Sayedi thought that Baradar has already lost his clout to the Taliban fighters and is not in a position to convince the Taliban leadership to agree to the talks.

The Taliban has been unequivocally demanding that all foreign forces should be withdrawn from Afghanistan before it will agree to start peace negotiations with the Kabul government.