The Wolesi Jirga today (23 November 2014) approved the long-delayed bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States and the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) with NATO. Although the Afghan Senate’s approval is still pending, this vote opens the door for the start of the ISAF-successor Mission Resolute Support. AAN senior analyst Thomas Ruttig and AAN researcher Wazhma Samandary say, however, that there was more resistance to the continued NATO presence in Afghanistan than the five (or seven?) ‘no’ votes cast in parliament. A sea of green cards of approval in the Wolesi Jirga. Photo: ToloNews
After the drawn our post-election process, the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the Afghan parliament, had organised an additional little cliffhanger for the governments of NATO member states and their diplomats in Kabul. After the new government signed the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States – now officially called the Security and Defence Cooperation Agreement – and the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) with NATO on the second day of its existence, 30 September, MPs took almost another two months give the two treaties their approval. Yet that’s not the Full Monty, as the Afghan Senate also still has to give green light.
When and if this is done, it will mean that the NATO follow-up mission for ISAF, called “Resolute Support“ (RSM), can start on 1 January 2015. It will comprise of 12,000 soldiers, 9800 of them Americans. Germany, with 850 soldiers (if the Bundestag approves the cabinet’s decision in December to deploy them), will continue to run what was ISAF Regional Command North in Mazar-e Sharif (the RCs will then be called Train Advise Assist Commands, or TAACs), Italy will then be in charge of the TAAC in Herat for the western region and Turkey will be in Kabul for the central region. Other countries who have committed troops are the UK, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
The tally of votes in the Wolesi Jirga vote looks made it look like getting approval for the agreements was a cakewalk. Only five of the 157 MPs present (1) raised a red card to indicate their ‘no’ votes. These were mainly well-known Islamist hardliners like who usually oppose everything ‘western’, from women’s rights (see for example here) to NATO bases. They include Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a Hezb-e Islami member from Parwan, and Sadeqizada Neli from Daikundi, a former commander considered to be close to a pro-Iranian party. Another vocal member of this group, Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi from Herat, was not present in the house today. The other no votes came from three Jamiatis, Amanullah Paiman and Qazi Abdul Rauf from Badakhshan and Mawlawi Abdul Rahman Rahmani from Balkh. (One MP told AAN there had, in fact, been two more ‘no’ votes – from Ashiqullah Wafa of Baghlan and Obaidullah Barakzai of Uruzgan, but these had, by mistake, not been officially counted by the Wolesi Jirga chairman.) (2)
However, it was not as easy as that. Six of the 18 commissions of the house had not come out in favour of the agreements in their final sessions. Four commissions had opposed the two pacts – the judicial, the legislative, the disabled and martyrs and the petitions and complaints commission. In the monitoring commission, five members were against and five in favour, and members of the kuchi commission did not vote at all. Anti-NATO members of the house had also succeeded in postponing the vote at least three times until, finally, a group of 30 pro-agreement MPs took the initiative and submitted a petition to put the subject on yesterday’s agenda (23 November). The assembled MPS then had to cast their votes openly – another step to minimise resistance to the agreements. (The suggestion of one MP to hold a closed-door session as when the head of the National Security Council Hanif Atmar and acting foreign minister Zarar Moqbel Osmani were questioned about the BSA on 10 November was turned down.) This all indicates that support for a continued NATO military presence in the country may continue to have more opponents within parliament than are visible, as well, as AAN has reported previously, outside the house-
It is also possible that among the approximately 100 absent MPs, there were some who did not want to be seen voting against the agreements and be considered ‘unpatriotic’. Others might have been taken by surprise by the agreements having been put in the agenda earlier then expected, as originally it had been scheduled for Wednesday, 26 November. One of the opponents of the agreement, Sediqizada Neli, accused the Wolesi Jirga administration of deciding to move the BSA/SOFA onto the agenda without having had a quorum itself. He also accused the US Embassy of influencing the decision by inviting a number of MPs for meetings prior to the decision to lobby them.
There is also still a question mark over the Senate vote expected for Tuesday, 25 November. 34 of the Senate’s 102 members were appointed by former president Hamed Karzai who decided, while in office, not to sign the BSA with the Americans. He even overruled the clear pro-agreement result of a loya jirga he himself had convened in November 2013, an example of the manipulative style of governing of the last government. Still, a rejection of the agreements by the senate would be a heavy surprise.
(1) Constitutionally, the Wolesi Jirga has 249 members. Three of them have fallen victim to attacks and were not replaced, so that currently 246 members remain. The house is plagued by high absentia rates, but today the quorum was fulfilled.
(2) Some media have different scores: ToloNews reported 149 votes in favour and five against. Pajhwok has 156 lawmakers present, 142 yes votes, “six members staged a walkout and five others were absent”. Khaama counted 175 MPs present and 5 no votes, Azadi Radio 157 present and five no votes. The official website of parliament also gives no clear figures, reporting a “majority votes while five others were disagree [sic]”.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020