Seeking stability in Afghanistan in 2014

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 29.01.14

For the year 2014, there are three main issues pertaining to the question of stability in
Afghanistan: first, the signing of a security agreement between Afghanistan and the US;
second, the presidential elections, which are due in April, and third, the departure of foreign
forces (US and NATO) from Afghanistan by December 31.

The problem with the proposed US-Afghan security pact, called the Bilateral Security
Arrangement (BSA), is that its one clause demands that the Kabul government provide
constitutional immunity to the actions carried out by the proposed US residual force (10,000
in number) for 10 years in post-2014 Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the president of
Afghanistan, has so far declined to sign the agreement, though the loya jirga (a grand
assembly of elders) convened last year allowed him to sign the agreement. Karzai thinks
that stability in post-2014 Afghanistan cannot be ensured through the BSA but through
reconciliation with the Taliban.

On a priority order, Karzai put reconciliation with the Taliban first and the signing of the BSA
later. There are certain reasons for this. First, Karzai seems to have been doubtful of the
combat abilities of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which has been raised to protect state
borders. However, Karzai seems to have been sure of the combat abilities of the Taliban
who may strive to recapture Kabul. It is apparent that Karzai realises the reality of the
Taliban who might have been dismembered and disintegrated since 2001, but are still there
and have the potential of a resurgence. Secondly, it also seems that Karzai is not happy
with the performance of foreign forces in Afghanistan. In 2001, he might have thought that
foreign forces would eradicate the menace called the Taliban and pave the way for a
peaceful, stable and coherent Afghanistan. By 2014, he may have realised that such was
not the case. Thirdly, it also seems that Karzai does not think that the presence of the
residual force, even if it reinforces the strength of the ANA, can avert the expected
onslaught of the Taliban on Kabul. This kind of thinking is again in the background that if
the US-NATO forces jointly could not stamp out the Taliban, the residual force, along with
the ANA, cannot do so either. Fourth, Karzai must also be apprehensive of the loyalties of
the commanders of the ANA. Karzai must be expecting defections from the ANA the moment
the US-NATO forces leave Afghanistan. Hence, when an opponent can brave the ravages
of the war and persist as a reality, why not embrace it? This must be the idea running
through the head of Karzai when he lays emphasis on reconciliation with the Taliban first
and the signing of any BSA later.

This kind of thinking is important when the significance of the forthcoming presidential
elections is weighed. If the Taliban do not participate in the elections, one kind of
Afghanistan will emerge; if they do participate, another kind of Afghanistan will appear. In
the first scenario, there are chances for perpetual conflict in Afghanistan. On the other
hand, in the second scenario, there are chances for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
This point again brings forth the importance of reconciliation with the Taliban before the
elections, though there is very little time left to do that. Interestingly, the US is not opposed
to compromising with the Taliban. The problem is that the US does initiate a dialogue with
the Taliban but by keeping the Kabul government out of the loop. Therein lies the rub.
Karzai thinks that the Kabul government should be a party to any such dialogue. If the US
enters into an agreement with the Taliban, the Kabul government becomes secondary in
the eyes of the Taliban. Furthermore, Karzai also thinks that Pakistan should be a party to
any dialogue with the Taliban. The US is not opposed to this idea and is in the process of
engaging Pakistan by restarting the strategic dialogue, which was started in 2010 but
stalled in 2011 in the wake of the Abbottabad raid. In this case, the problem is that Pakistan
is dithering on whether or not it should commit itself to the US on the issue of dealing with
the Taliban.

It is apparent now that Karzai will not sign the BSA. Karzai thinks that if peace and stability is
to be restored, reconciliation with the Taliban is a prerequisite and not the BSA.
Nevertheless, if an agreement with the Taliban takes place, there is no need for a residual
force. On the other hand, if the settlement does not come about, having a residual force in
Afghanistan means the perpetuation of conflict and the spilling of Afghan blood. If the
perspective is only the Taliban reality in Afghanistan, Karzai’s stance is realistic. The
Taliban should participate in the elections and the next central government should be
broad-based, having Taliban representation. However, if the perspective is the al Qaeda
reality in Afghanistan, Karzai’s stance is unrealistic. The US compulsion is that a residual
force should be left behind to check al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan. The same is the
justification given for drone strikes, which have taken a heavy toll on al Qaeda members.

Apparently, Karzai says that he is opposed to the residual force because it would shed
Afghan blood with impunity. However, this argument is not convincing because Afghan
blood has already been shed in his presence at the helm of affairs since 2002. The
question is this: do the Taliban also realise that Afghan blood should not be spilled? Will
the Taliban reconcile with the reality of coexistence and participate in the presidential
elections? The month of March is considered important in Afghanistan because the snow
melts, opponents become visible (and accessible) and a conflict can be initiated. March will
decide whether or not foreign forces are leaving Afghanistan in 2014.

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