War & Peace

The Lion Roars Again: BSA, Loya Jirga and a strong sense of déjà vu


Preparations are underway for the ‘consultative Loya Jirga’ which will meet in a month’s time, as the first step in deciding whether Afghanistan signs a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. The Afghan parliament will then either approve or reject the agreement. All this pushes the decision way past the 31 October deadline set by the US government. Meanwhile, the defence ministers of NATO member countries meet tomorrow for two days, with its post-2014 training mission in Afghanistan part of the agenda. Without the BSA, though, NATO will not have a training mission which means there is nothing much for the ministers to discuss. Kate Clark reports.

On the BSA depends not just US bases and a possible counter-terrorism force, but also the continuing NATO training mission and money for the Afghan security forces – a four billion dollar yearly commitment from the US. Military planners from the US and NATO countries have been complaining that they need time to organise if there are to be stay behind forces – that’s personnel, bases, weaponry and contracting.

However, the Afghan decision Afghan has now been pushed into December when it will be in danger of hitting the Christmas and New Year holiday in Washington. Moreover, comments by the president’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, suggests the Palace is still not sure about the text which US Secretary of State John Kerry left Kabul last week thinking had been agreed upon. Faizi told Reuters, “A lot of progress has been made on the [BSA] document, but it is not finalized… If we do not reach a final agreement on this draft, it will go to the Loya Jirga and the Afghan people will be able to look at the issues remaining.” The (re-)appearance of uncertainty on the Afghan side may just be a bargaining ploy. Yet Faizi gave a good impression of nonchalance: Afghanistan, he said, was in no hurry to sign an agreement, giving exactly the opposite impression from the US with its talk of – now due to be passed – deadlines.

The need for decision-making is probably more in the political than the logistics realm. The US planned counter-terrorism mission, spearheaded by special operations forces, will not need the heavy equipment and other stuff which is now being moved out of Afghanistan or junked. The ‘collapsing down’ of the myriad foreign military facilities to the major forward operating bases and airfields will happen anyway.  Politically, though, the longer the uncertainty continues, the more support for the post-2014 missions in western capitals will ebb away. See, for example, the highly sceptical editorial in the New York Times today, which describes the BSA as part of a “face-saving way out of a conflict that seems headed, at best, for a stalemate”.

Insight into how willing NATO members still are to stay on after 2014 should come after their defence ministers’ meeting tomorrow and the day after (22 to 23 October 2013). At their last meeting in June, ten countries expressed an interest in participating in the post-ISAF mission to “train, advise and assist” Afghan security forces in five locations in Kabul and four other locations in the north, south, east and west. The defence ministers will be joined by Afghan defence minister Bismillah Khan, UNAMA boss Jan Kubis and European Union high representative Cathy Ashton and will have two chances to discuss the mission (1) but, as it is contingent on the BSA being signed – NATO needs US logistics and air support to stay on – it is unclear what they might actually have to discuss.

Meanwhile, on the Afghan side, the slow wheels of politics are also grinding on. Preparations have begun for a 3000-delegate strong ‘consultative Loya Jirga’ to be held around 19 November 2013 and to last 3 to 5 days. One of the members of the preparation committee, Humayun Shinwari, told AAN delegates will discuss all of the BSA (a 32-page document according to the Loya Jirga Secretary General, Sadeq Mudaber), but will focus on three issues:

“Immunity for US soldiers” – more accurately, immunity from Afghan courts, as US soldiers would remain under US criminal jurisdiction.

A US commitment to protect Afghanistan from ishghal – invasion. “There should be a clear description of ishghal,” said Shinwari, “and if any foreign country attacks Afghanistan, US forces along with Afghan forces should protect Afghanistan.” This is a clear reference to defence from Pakistan.

‘Security’ in Afghanistan: “We need a clear explanation of why US bases should be established. The Afghan government is willing to have these bases provided they provide security and stability for Afghanistan.” As part of this, the government wants to clamp down on US night raids: “These should only be carried out by Afghan forces,” said Shinwari. “US soldiers will be prohibited from conducting night raids.”

Readers may be getting a sense of déjà vu, as surely, they might think, these things have already been thrashed out? The chair of the preparatory committee for the 2013 jirga, former president and mujahedin leader, Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, certainly thought this was the case, as he looked back to another jirga, held two years ago to scrutinize the US-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement: “Security was a part of the previous jirga and has been already been decided on… I told him [Karzai] that he can sign it and if there is any problem he can solve it with Americans by negotiating.” (Compare the AP report here).

Yet the point of both jirgas is not to make an actual decision, but to give President Karzai the impression of having national political support for a military agreement which compromises Afghan sovereignty while, at the same time, allowing him to publically claim that it protects Afghan sovereignty. The inherent tension in this position came across clearly in the contradictions and convolutions of his speech to delegates in 2011 as he spoke about Afghanistan not needing assistance and needing assistance after the foreign troops had gone home. (2)

Delegates to the coming jirga will include, along with members of parliament, provincial councillors and senators, those selected to ‘represent’ the nation – ulama, tribal leaders, representatives of the disabled, refugees and civil society. Shinwari insisted they would be selected by the preparation committee alone and not by the government. However, the committee is itself headed by Karzai loyalists – Shinwari is an advisor on social affairs and Mudaber is director of administrative affairs at the Palace. Last time round, delegates had clearly been ‘hand picked’ for their loyalty to the government and they behaved accordingly. After splitting into working groups to look over the agreement, they gave the president unanimous support to sign it. At the time, I wrote:

[The] reporting back [by the working groups] gave every appearance of having been scripted beforehand. After two days of ‘discussion’ in working groups, there were no surprises … Rather than the Afghan lion which President Karzai spoke about in his opening speech, these delegates unfortunately looked more like herded sheep.

Karzai duly agreed with their declaration of support for the Strategic Peace Agreement and it was signed. This time, one can only expect similar docility from the delegates – if, that is, the president does actually want the BSA to come into being.

 

(1)  The NATO spokesperson said:

Over dinner [on Tuesday 22 October], ministers are expected to assess planning for our post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan Security Forces and that is going to be part of a bigger discussion on the main themes of next year’s summit. And we’re not planning any briefing after that dinner.

And at 11h15 [Wednesday 23 October 2013], we will continue with the final session – that is meeting with ISAF partners. They will be reviewing the state of transition, progress of the ANSF. And they will be joined by Minister Bismillah Mohammadi, the EU high representative, Cathy Ashton and the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis. The Secretary General will make public opening remarks at the start of each session. And he will be concluding the ministerial with a press conference at 14h00.

(2) A couple of quotes from the president’s 2011 speech:

By the end of 2014, the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces will have been completed, and the foreign troops will be leaving, which is good and in the interest of Afghanistan… The US, Germany, UK, France and the UAE will be leaving this country… 48 or 45 countries present today, will all be leaving Afghanistan. In three years’ time, it will be us and our land. This is the destiny we face. The question is, once they have left, will Afghanistan have the stability, and the assistance it needs or will their departure mean forgetting us again, leaving us at the mercy of a new form of interference and to be trampled again. This is very important point for us to think on what we will do after 2014. Can we, ourselves, protect this land? We certainly can. Can we, ourselves defend this country? Undoubtedly we can! How can we do this? It is only through national unity. It is our duty to provide for a better life and security for future generations, and the question is with what means can we achieve this? With our own means? Surely, with our own means. Will we need more assistance? Absolutely! The question is under what conditions?

The President also described Afghanistan as a lion:

Even if old, sick and feeble, a lion is still a lion! Other animals in the jungle are afraid of even a sick lion and stay away from him. We are lions, the United States should treat us as lions, and we want nothing less than that. We therefore are prepared to enter into a strategic agreement between a lion and America. A lion hates a stranger entering his home; a lion dislikes a stranger trespassing its space, a lion does not want his off-springs taken away at night. The lion (Afghanistan) does not allow parallel structures to operate, the lion is the king of his territory and he governs his own territory, The lion has nothing to do with others in the jungle. On our territory, Afghanistan’s status as lion should be recognized. Only then we are prepared to sign the strategic agreement with America. We will provide them military installations.

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Thematic Category: War & Peace