With the future of the Kabul-Washington security pact still uncertain, U.S. officials have looked to break, or circumvent, the logjam negotiations now face. In a recent letter to President Barak Obama, Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Committee on Armed Services, suggested giving up on President Hamid Karzai and waiting to sign the pact with the next Afghan President, set to be elected in April.
The letter came in response to Karzai’s decision to ignore the Loya Jirga recommendation that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) be signed before 2014, and instead wait to sign it after the elections in April. He also set new preconditions to be met before the deal is finalized, including advancing peace talks with the Taliban and ending U.S. raids on Afghan homes.
Afghan leaders, the public and U.S. officials have all voiced strong criticisms of Karzai’s decision in recent weeks. Many have accused him of disregarding the will of the people by flouting the Jirga’s decision. Some have suggested he is trying to secure privileges for himself after he leaves office next year. Others have said he is simply out of his mind, making irrational demands that could never be met.
“Despite the Loya Jirga’s endorsement, President Karzai has unfortunately chosen to raise additional demands as a condition for his signature of the agreement,” Senator Levine said in his letter to Obama.
“The public demands that President Karzai sign the agreement by the end of the year, and the recent suggestion that we could settle for less than an Afghan president approving the agreement contribute to President Karzai’s mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States.”
Many Afghan officials and security experts have railed Karzai for playing hardball with the U.S. over the BSA. They have argued the pact is more important for Kabul than it is Washington, and said that Afghanistan could not protect itself if foreign troops pulled out entirely next year.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials have scoffed at Karzai’s preconditions, with National Security Advisor Susan Rice telling TOLOnews in an exclusive interview last week that the U.S. has no “magic wand” to bring peace to Afghanistan.
However, Senator Levin’s letter marks the first time a leader in the U.S. has expressed support for the idea of pushing-off signing the agreement until after the elections in April.
“We should tell President Karzai that if he chooses not to sign the BSA, we will await the next president of Afghanistan who will be elected in April,” Levin’s letter read. “The next Afghan president, whoever he is, is also likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and there would be greater confidence in his sticking with an agreement he has signed.”
Previously, Washington argued the pact needed to be signed before the end of the year, so the U.S. and its NATO allies could make plans for a residual troop presence – expected to number around 10,000 – that would stay in Afghanistan post-2014 to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces.
In his letter, Levin promoted a continued partnership with Afghanistan, and said he was encouraged by the Jirga’s affirmative vote on the BSA over two weeks ago.
But whether or not the U.S. will continue to support and cooperate with Afghanistan is not in the Senator’s hands.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated the U.S. would accept a BSA signed by someone other than Karzai, like the Minister of Defense. Yet the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs quashed that idea with a response the next day, saying the decision was Karzai’s and his alone.
James Dobbins, U.S. Special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, visited Kabul this week to meet with the Afghan President.
He said that Taliban peace talks, the BSA and the upcoming elections were the items discussed. But he emphasized that no progress was made on the issue of the security pact.
“I’d have to say on the security agreement we didn’t really make any progress; it was sort of a restatement of the known positions,” Dobbins said. “I explained why we thought it was important to remove the anxiety, uncertainty around this as quickly as possible in order to move forward with the election process and to sustain the broad international coalition.”
According to U.S. officials, if the BSA is not signed, no foreign troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and some 4.1 billion USD in military aid funding would be frozen.
Leaders of NATO and its member states have indicated they would follow the lead of the U.S., and require the BSA to be in place before they make any troop or financial commitments to Afghanistan.