US-Afghanistan Close to Security Agreement

After three rounds of extensive negotiations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and United States Secretary of State John Kerry reached a deal on a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).

afghanistanWithin the next few weeks, the agreement will go through several governmental institutions in Afghanistan, including Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) for procedural rules before it is ready to be signed.

Distinct from the Bilateral Strategic Partnership formalized during President Barack Obama’s visit to Kabul on May 2, 2012, this security agreement will allow the United States to own as many as nine military bases in Afghanistan and grant immunity to US military personnel from persecution under the Afghan law.

Two considerations have carried special value in casing the impasse.

The first one beckons the assurance of stability of Afghanistan against foreign aggression. The other one revolves around securing guarantees for Afghanistan’s national sovereignty.

Karzai laments that despite its solid commitment to Afghanistan’s security in the Strategic Partnership, the United States has not delivered on its promises. In his address Karzai said,

“In the Strategic Partnership Agreement, America committed to support Afghanistan in case of attack on Afghanistan. But we realized that, after signing the Strategic Partnership, one of our neighboring countries [Pakistan] shot missiles, rockets, and bullets on Afghan soil, but America did not even recognize that such violation occurred.”

Pakistan’s military establishment has long been accused of shelling Afghan villages in the east and having links with notorious militant organizations that kill US-Afghan troops.

“It is a problem that terrorist can cross the border, conduct terrorist acts in Afghanistan and then seek sanctuaries, safe havens in Pakistan.” said NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen to reporters after NATO members met to discuss Afghanistan on April 23, 2013 in Brussels.

In the area of national sovereignty, Karzai also finds it troubling that unilateral counter-terrorism operations and air-strikes carried out by international forces in Afghanistan are not coordinated with Kabul.

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Interestingly, the Afghan President seemed to have resolved both matters by stating “After a long and serious discussion, we reached agreement on a range of issues. In these agreements, the United States will no longer conduct operations by themselves.”

For his part, Secretary Kerry identified America’s crucial need in the BSA: immunity for American men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan.

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US Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Kerry stressed the importance of immunity by saying “If the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then, unfortunately, there cannot be a bilateral security agreement.” In historical retrospect with Iraq, failure to reach a similar deal with Baghdad prompted the United States to pull out completely.

Once inked, the Bilateral Security Agreement will orchestrate the US mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014 – mainly assuming a supportive role in training Afghan security forces and conducting joint counter-terrorism operations.

In a late Saturday night press conference, officials and reports appeared satisfied that, despite their long and serious discussions over issues of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and America’s immunity, the two leaders were in substantial agreement over a wide range of critical issues.

People in Afghanistan cannot view with satisfaction the prospect of a continuation of the division of authority between the United States and Afghanistan which has prevailed in Kabul for the past year.  With his personal warmth and understanding of the Afghan government and society, Secretary Kerry has been able to bridge that division.

Sami Jabarkhail is a Fulbright Scholar at Texas A&M Univesity. Email him at sjabark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Sami.