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Bilateral suspicion agreement

If the Afghan and US governments fail to reach a bilateral security agreement (BSA) about what the number and responsibilities of US troops in Afghanistan are to be at the end of next year it seems that all US and other foreign troops will leave the country.

But this is what President Obama intended, anyway, if his announcement of September 1, 2012 can be believed. He said “We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I’ve set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014.”

That seemed clear-cut, but in an echo of the Nixon years (whose press secretary memorably declared about one particular lie that “this is the operative statement; all other statements are inoperative”), Obama’s press secretary assured the world that “he never said that all the troops would be out”. Then a month later Vice-President Biden said plainly that “we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period.”

It is apparent, however, that the US does want to keep several thousand troops in Afghanistan for an unspecified time (period?), but the situation is confusing, and there is little wonder that President Karzai, although admittedly not the sharpest knife in the Afghan carvery, said that “between me and the Americans, there is no good trust. I don’t trust them. They don’t trust me. This has been clear for ten years. I had disputes with them and they launched propaganda against me.” Suspicion is bilateral.

It is indisputable that Washington doesn’t trust Karzai, as evident in what Time magazine recorded about President Obama’s Afghanistan visit in 2010 “from Air Force One high above the Caspian Sea on its secret journey to Kabul.” A reporter wanted to know at what time Karzai had “learned that Obama would be dropping in for an unscheduled visit?” The scornful and condescending reply by the then national security adviser James Jones, which was greeted with mirth by those on the aircraft, was “probably, right about now.”

Time noted that “American news organisations had been discreetly alerted to the president’s planned trip to Afghanistan more than two days earlier; the Afghan government was informed just a couple hours before landing.”

This is only one tiny – but most enlightening – example of the arrogance and patronising insolence of the American empire. The fact that the president’s national security adviser could, to in-house merriment, publicly poke fun at the president of an allied nation is not surprising, but it is confirmation that Washington has little but supercilious scorn for those unfortunate enough to have been drawn into a position of dependence on US support.

This does not make the target of disdain a better or more rational person, of course, and there is no doubt that in recent months Karzai has been behaving in an even more erratic fashion than usual.

First, he refused to approve the BSA, saying that a decision should be left to the grand jirga; but when the jirga (most suspiciously) voted in favour he refused to endorse its ruling.

Reaction by US officials was predictably austere, and visiting national security adviser Susan Rice said in an Afghan television interview after her fruitless meeting with Karzai on November 25 that she hoped he “will heed the strong message that he has heard and we have all heard from the people of Afghanistan and that we will be able to see this agreement concluded promptly.”

She was followed by James Dobbins, a ‘special envoy’ to the region whose discussions involved “sort of a restatement of the known positions”, which also produced nothing. What a surprise.

Then, during his visit to Kabul on December 6-8 Secretary of State Chuck Hagel stated he didn’t see any point in meeting Karzai, which is an interesting way of conducting diplomacy, but helpfully said that Afghanistan’s Defence Minister, General Bismillah Mohammadi, had told him the BSA would be signed “in a timely manner,” which statement would no doubt cement President Karzai’s esteem for both his loyal general and Hagel.

During Hagel’s visit, Karzai went off to Iran where he and President Hassan Rouhani agreed on a “long-term friendship and cooperation pact”. Then Hagel decided that the following day he would go to see Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad, where nothing was achieved. It seems to be the season for pantomime.

Three days before this sad charade defence secretary Kerry told a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting that Karzai’s signature on the BSA was not essential because “You know, his minister of defence can sign it, the government can sign it, somebody can accept responsibility for this,” which is a novel way of dealing with the leader of an important ‘strategic partner’.

There can’t be too many presidents who have been told at second hand and most publicly by a high representative of a foreign government that lack of his signature to an international agreement affecting the laws of his country is irrelevant. Little wonder Karzai went off to Tehran.

Karzai says he wants an “absolute end to all military operations and airstrikes on residential areas by foreign troops which can result in civilian casualties,” which is impossible for anyone to guarantee, but he was annoyed by a US airstrike on November 28 that killed a two year-old child and two women.

This, his spokesman said, “is an indication that the US has no regard for the lives, houses, and sovereignty of the Afghan people. Under these circumstances, the BSA with the US may not be signed.” Karzai doesn’t trust Washington, and Washington doesn’t trust him, and he’s doing his best to make things difficult for Obama and his well-meaning but somewhat ingenuous foot-in-mouth team.

The war in Afghanistan has been a catastrophe. Countless thousands of lives have been lost since the US invasion and it seems the country might collapse in horrible chaos, mainly because US condescension and arrogance have combined with resultant Afghan anger and resentment to forge a permanent bilateral suspicion agreement.

The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com

Brian Cloughley, "Bilateral suspicion agreement," The News. 2013-12-15.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , National security , Foriegn relations , Diplomacy , Agreement , President Obama , President Hamid Karzai , Afghanistan , Washington , BSA