By Air Commodore (R) Khalid

Nov 25, 2013

Loya Jirga

As anticipated, the Afghan Loya Jirga has endorsed a much awaited bilateral security agreement (BSA), allowing an unspecified number of American troops to stay on in the country after 2014. “Given the current situation, and Afghanistan’s need… the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga,” said the statement read by Jirga deputy Fazul Karim Imaq. The Jirga overwhelming backed the BSA and urged President Karzai to sign it by the end of this year.

However, as typical of him, Karzai has left the matter in a vacuum by refusing to say whether he would sign it into law. Karzai, in his final remarks to the four day meeting, said he would not sign it until after a presidential election due next April. However an Afghan analyst Fardin Hashemi has opined that despite Karzai’s comments, he expected the deal to be signed soon. “Afghanistan needs US aid to function and the continuation of the aid has been conditioned on a signing of the pact before the end of the year,” he added.

Jirga comprised of about 2,500 chieftains, tribal elders and politicians—all presidential nominees. However, Karzai had thrown an open invitation that all those who have reservations about the BSA, should register their point of view during the Jirga proceedings. He had also indicated that Taliban would also be present in the Jirga. Independent security analysts had drawn their conclusion well before the Jirga that the rubber stamp assembly would approve the agreement after some customary noises. Karzai had floated the concept of a Jirga because he wants the BSA approved without single-handedly shouldering the responsibility. Perception had it that Karzai would succumb to American pressure and sign the BSA in exchange for his personal security and that of his immediate family members.

Jirga delegates spent three days debating the deal seen as necessary to enable thousands of American soldiers to stay beyond a 2014 deadline, on the pretext of to training and mentoring government security forces who are still struggling to face a resilient Taliban insurgency on their own. The Loya Jirga has no legal weight and can only recommend to Karzai what he should do. He convened the council to solicit their advice on whether he should sign the agreement or not.

Karzai argued that Afghanistan needed more time to ensure that the United States was committed to peace in the country and stressed that the April 5 elections were a key date. He also hinted that if the agreement is signed now, he will lose the influence he needs to ensure that the elections are not the subject of manipulation. He has in the past accused the United States of interfering in the 2009 elections, which he had almost lost despite massive fraud. He was elected after the runner-up Dr Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of a run off round. Karzai is not contesting the elections, but his brother is one of the ten candidates.

Karzai has also laid out conditions for signing the pact, which include US ‘cooperation’ in efforts to make peace with the Taliban. “This agreement should lead to peace. If it does not lead to peace, it will lead to disaster,” he said. Karzai also stipulated that there could be no more US military raids on Afghan homes, a sensitive topic which threatened to derail the deal last week. “If the US goes into Afghan homes one more time, there will be no agreement…The Americans should cooperate, and bring peace. If this agreement leads to peace, on my eyes, I will endorse, and accept your order and sign it…We want security, peace and we want a proper election. You have asked me that I should sign it within a month. Do you think that peace will come within a month? If I sign it and peace does not come who will be blamed for it by history? So that is why I am asking for guarantees,” Karzai told the assembly. He said he had told the Americans ahead of Jirga that “You waited 12 years and you can’t wait another five months.” Karzai, often looking angry, argued repeatedly that Afghanistan needed more time to ensure that the United States was committed to peace in the country. “We need a period of implementation. We want a period of implementation for peace. Peace is our condition. If they bring peace we will sign it,” he said. Karzai’s latest move could be an attempt to avoid taking personal responsibility for an agreement that some Afghans might see as selling out to foreign interests.

At the end of meeting, Jirga chairman and Karzai’s close ally former President Sibghatullah Mujadidi told him: “If you don’t sign it, we will be disappointed.” He also threatened to leave the country if Karzai refused to sign the pact. “You should sign it, you should sign it for this issue to be over,” Mujadidi yelled at Karzai. “This is our request. That this agreement should be signed very soon and if the president does not sign it, I will promise you that as I am a servant of this nation, who has served these people for 40 to 50 years, I will resign and I will leave this country,” the 89-year-old Mojaddedi pleaded. Karzai had stunned the US when he urged the delegates on  opening day to approve the security pact but said he will leave it to his successor to sign it. Karzai also seems to be concerned about his long-term legacy, that he doesn’t want to be seen as the Afghan leader who agreed to keep foreign troops in his country beyond 2014.

Failure to clinch the deal could mean a full US pullout, leaving Afghanistan to fight the Taliban on its own. US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, have repeatedly said that deal must be finalised by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence. The US State Department has warned that failure to promptly sign the pact could jeopardise billions of dollars in vital aid to Afghanistan.

Draft text of the agreement made public about a week before the Jirga indicated that Karzai had agreed to all key demands made by the US; whereas Americans had not accepted any demand made by the Afghan side. American troops stand exempted from Afghan jurisdiction if they are accused of war or other crimes. President Karzai  told delegates he would “work on the agreement and continue bargaining” after they made recommendations for the deal. These included the return of Afghan detainees held at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.nad that   American soldiers accused of crimes in Afghanistan should be put on trial in courts on the US bases in Afghanistan.

Taliban, who before the Jirga had threatened to target delegates if they backed the agreement, have condemned the pact. The “illegal and insignificant pact of slavery with America will neither benefit the American invaders nor criminal slaves”, they said in a statement referring to the Jirga members.

President Barak Obama’s administration has said it wants a deal signed by the end of the year and warned that planning for a post-2014 military presence may be jeopardized if it is not approved by Karzai. The Obama administration has said it will pull all its forces out of Afghanistan without a security deal, as it did when Iraq failed to sign a similar agreement. Most of America’s allies have also said they will not keep troops in Afghanistan without the deal. “We are studying President Karzai’s speech. We continue to believe that concluding the BSA as quickly as possible is to the benefit of both nations.” US Embassy spokesman Robert Hilton said.

In a preamble, the document repeats language from a broader strategic partnership agreement signed last year in which the United States pledged not to use Afghan territory or facilities “as a launching point for attacks against other countries.” But that language is not expected to prohibit the US drone strikes against al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups in Pakistan. Roughly two-dozen-page accord falls well short of Afghan demand that the United States commit to protecting Afghan territory against any outside attack. It expresses a strong US interest in Afghanistan’s stability and security, and promises consultation and consideration of unspecified assistance.

The document also does not include troop numbers for a residual garrison. President Obama is likely to announce a plan for troop levels, to be determined unilaterally by the US early in 2014. Most estimates have indicated that the administration will retain up to 15,000 personnel in Afghanistan to advise and train local forces and conduct some counterterrorism missions.

Loya Jirga route for the BSA approval had come under fire by Karzai’s political opponents, who argue that there was no need of such an assembly in the presence of Afghan parliament. Opponents claim that Karzai invited like-minded people to the Jirga as a way of ensuring approval of the controversial pact; whereas being an elected body, the parliament could have taken an independent stance, and may be secured a better deal for the Afghan nation.

Afghan economy remains war and drug dependent. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has revealed in its latest report that Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has risen to a scary level covering more than 200,000 hectares in 2013, a 36 percent rise over last year. It indicates a grave trend for the country and raises alarm bells for the international community, especially the immediate neighbours of Afghanistan. New assessment represents the highest total cultivation ever for Afghanistan, surpassing the previous peak of 193,000 hectares in 2007. Total opium production has reached roughly 5,500 tons, an increase of 49 percent since 2012.

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC has called for a more comprehensive and integrated response to the drug problem. To achieve the objective, counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda but the weak Karzai led government is unable to deliver on any of these fronts. Targeting poor farmers would not deliver the desired results and the international community would have to get serious about removing known traffickers from positions of responsibility in the Afghan government. At the same time farmers need to be provided compatibly profitable alternatives.

Pakistan needs to reassess the situation in the backdrop of the BSA. It should resume back-channel efforts for negotiations with the TTP. It should contact the disgruntled groups and urge them to break away in exchange for amnesty and other incentives. After Hakimullah Mehsud another pro-peace Afghan Taliban leader Dr Nasiruddin Haqqani was recently killed in the suburbs of Islamabad. There is a need to create secure venues for negotiations to avoid recurrences of killing of high profile pro-dialogue Taliban leaders. Despite the apparent tough stance taken by the successor of Hakimullah Mehsud, there are fair chances of an early resumption of dialogue with Taliban. Pakistan needs to device a comprehensive policy to ensure sustainable demobilization of militias on the conclusion of an agreement with the TTP and integration of former militants into mainstream economic activities. There is also a need to strengthen anti-drug effort to prevent proliferation of drug trafficking through Pakistan. These tasks cannot be accomplished single-handedly by Pakistan. Therefore, negotiations on these issues should be initiated with the UN and other willing donors for working out a comprehensive and economically sustainable plan of action. A timeline of mid 2014 should be pursued for reaching a political settlement with major chunk of Taliban entities of Pakistan.

Pakistan has reiterated time and again that it will continue to play a positive role in promoting peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Pakistan is of the view that any political vacuum in Afghanistan after 2014 drawdown could prove harmful for the region. Therefore the Afghan people should be allowed to decide their fate on their own.

Pakistan has supported the Jirga endorsed security arrangement but has said that it should not harm the interests of neighbouring countries. “Whatever arrangement is finally worked out between Afghanistan and the US… [it] should not undermine the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbours,” Foreign Office spokesman commented.

Acceptance or rejection of the BSA by the Afghan government will determine the future trajectory of the Afghan conflict and its fallout on Pakistan. Approval of the BSA means that Afghan Taliban would, in all probability, take a divergent route and continue their militancy dominated political struggle. In such an eventuality, Afghanistan would continue to suffer the pangs of insurgency; and the ensuing political uncertainty would have serious ramifications for Pakistan. Outside the American military fortifications, there will be a spate of never ending skirmishes between the combat hardened militant groups and poorly skilled Afghan National Security Forces. Pakistan should workout its strategy to safeguard its interests from the negativities arising out of the fallout of an instable post 2014 Afghanistan.

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