Karzai Dealt His Own Cards But For a Good Cause

by Dr. G R Roashan

Abstract: The signing of a strategic treaty with the United States is an issue of great importance and perhaps Karzai thought it was too big a decision for him to make by himself or together with a parliament that is still to find its own path in becoming truly functional. So he grasped the other option, the convening of a traditional jirga to back him up with its resolution, although non-binding, but most ut who do not agree with him, but they should look at the cards.

It would be very naeve to think that the United States does not want to enter into a military strategic treaty with Afghanistan. It would also be naeve to think that Afghanistan would easily stand on its own when the US forces leave the country. It would also be very naeve to think that Karzai on his own or together with a parliament that has still to resolve its own problems could decide on a great subject namely a strategic agreement with the United States. So the calling in of a traditional Jirga was an option that would help the Afghan president in an unavoidable decision that he must make regarding extension up to the year 2024 of American military presence in Afghanistan.

But it was interesting to see 2200 people representing a wide range of population in the country who were considered to have been handpicked by government officials, listen to the president explain to them about different implications of such an agreement as well as to the internal issues that face him regarding governing Afghanistan.

It was also interesting to note that while Mr. Karzai was talking about an agreement to be signed between Afghanistan and the US he had not shared the preliminary draft of the same that already exists as a basis for discussions between the two countries. So the delegates to the Jirga were spared the details of the agreement even in its raw form and were just grappling with ideas in the air.

But he was direct and sincere in sharing his worries with the gathering about the strategic agreement and about security in the country. Some of what he told the meeting probably was not of the liking of the US but the fact that a traditional council of the people of Afghanistan gives the green light to the government in going ahead with the strategic agreement in itself is a step in the direction desired both by the US and Karzai.

Traditionally, Afghans are apprehensive of the presence of foreign troops in their country. This is because they have witnessed in their history British, Soviet and now international forces in their land. They do not have happy memories of the conduct of these troops. Now that they through a large gathering of their representatives advised the government to allow the continued presence of the US troops in itself is a great help to the Afghan president who has now transferred the responsibility of a decision on the same to the nation.

However, the difficult aspects of the agreement are still to be tackled. This requires further diplomatic approaches to reconcile the interests of the two parties for such an agreement. The gathering as well as the Afghan president insisted on the fact that any foreign troop in Afghanistan beyond 2014 should have no special immunity from Afghan laws to which he/she should abide. This is an issue that would make negotiations very difficult. The same kind of case made the US to decide on a complete withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. The issue here is that Afghanistan is very different from Iraq. Strategically Afghanistan could meet the US interests in the region better specially when realizing the fact that the war on terror is not concluded yet and that Afghanistan is neighboring Iran and Pakistan both immense interest to the US for a variety of reasons. Afghanistan is also located on the very important new and upcoming 'silk road' connecting with energy rich central Asia. Russia is in the vicinity and China is a neighbor of Afghanistan. Can the US forego a golden chance of having strategic access to Afghanistan in the middle of all these important countries?

Yet the final question, the most difficult one, is the actual details of the US military presence in Afghanistan. A draft resolution in the form of suggestions to the Afghan government by the meeting has listed many conditions for entering into such an agreement. Some of these draft articles are ignoring the needs and the powers of the United States. Others are rational requests and demands. These can certainly create difficulties in smoothing the differences.

There are also people in the opposition to the government who are against the strategic agreement. Perhaps they think Afghanistan can deal with its own problems. However, it seems they are unaware that Afghanistan does not only face internal problems but has been a victim of regional interests of regional powers and especially her neighbors. It would not be easy for Afghanistan to fight in so many fronts at the same time. It would need help and that help should rather not be from its selfish neighbors or regional powers.

In the light of the above the convening of the traditional Jirga was a positive action taken in the wake also of the upcoming meeting in Germany on Afghanistan. In addition to the tribal elders and elite the Jirga was attended by members of Afghan Parliament and now notwithstanding the claims of the opposition, Karzai can claim the support of the nation in his dealing with the issue of the continued military cooperation with the United States. The United States, on the other hand, has overall welcomed the meeting and its support of Karzai to go ahead with the strategic agreement document. After all, the US has spent so much in money and men in Afghanistan to just pack up and leave at this juncture. And Karzai alone could not bear the weight of the great responsibility of deciding on the strategic agreement. Finally, it is a good thing anyway to involve the nation in important issues and get their advice.


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