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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