Why President Karzai Has to Sign the Bilateral Security Agreement

Building an equal relationship with Pakistan and Iran must be Afghanistan's top regional political strategy until there is visible, serious and honest commitment in support of peace efforts and lasting stability.
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While it is a usual practice bargaining for the sake of national interest and political gains in any negotiations, reaching a decision, however, on Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) has been a challenging task. Apparently, President Karzai and Secretary Kerry reached a de facto agreement on this matter, but the thumbs-up is still to be given by the Consultative Loya Jirga (gathering of tribal elders) planned for November 19th. Despite President Karzai's political posturing, nobody in the country fears that he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) even though some foreign media outlets have been casting doubts on it, usually adding to the sensationalist and negative coverage of Afghan affairs.

Political players, no matter what their party affiliation is, understand the vulnerability of Afghanistan's geopolitical position in terms of its long term security in the region. They also understand that there is, unfortunately, no reliable ally for Afghanistan in its immediate neighborhood. Iran -- a potential nuclear power, and Pakistan -- already a nuclear power, continue to see Afghanistan at their peripheral outlooks which define their relationship with enemies or allies. This political equation is unlikely to change in favor of Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. For decades, they have been involved in arming radical groups, trying to destabilize Afghanistan for their own interests and fueled ethno-linguistic and religious differences in order to increase their regional hegemony. "The ISI has monthly regular meetings with eight senior members of the Taliban in Islamabad. They encourage Taliban to continue fighting since peace talks won't offer them concessions they are expecting to gain through negotiation," said a highly reliable source on condition of anonymity. For Afghans, it is a very hard sell that countries like Pakistan and Iran could play a positive role in bringing peace, security and economic prosperity in the absence of the international community and the United States in particular. That being said, building an equal relationship with Pakistan and Iran must be Afghanistan's top regional political strategy until there is visible, serious and honest commitment in support of peace efforts and lasting stability.

On the other hand, further delay in signing the BSA offers a perfect propaganda tool to the Taliban and other radical and extremist groups. They can manipulate public perception by portraying that the Afghan government has lost its support base and the relationship with its western allies is weak and derailing. Hence, it helps Taliban to attract new recruits, prevent rural population cooperating with the Afghan government and discourage people, in particular women, to participate in the upcoming election. Indeed, Taliban has already changed tactics by targeting officials of the Independent Election Commission (IEC); killing Amanullah Aman an IEC official in Kunduz province and kidnapping two other IEC officials in Faryab Province. Meanwhile, for Afghans, President Obama's Administration's sending confusing messages on the United States future commitment to Afghanistan while the country is going through very critical times is not helpful at all.

Additionally, it has immense psychological impact on the public mindset particularly on economic activities. Local private investors are living in a limbo thinking that security condition may deteriorate in the absence of international forces. A recent Word Bank report predicts a 10 percent decrease in economic growth (Economic growth is expected to reach 3.1 percent this year and 3.5 percent in 2014, down sharply from 14.4 percent in 2012) in 2013 because of waning security conditions and withdrawal of international forces. There are already signs of an economic downturn. This year, Afghan property markets are down, people are losing jobs and local investors are holding to their cash since all eyes are fixed on the status of the BSA. It is seen as insurance for all kind of investments both political and economic. Interestingly, Afghan businessmen are not worried that Taliban may return, but rather scared that if international forces fully withdraw, Afghan warlords would strip them off their properties and cash.

Sealing BSA is extensively linked to President Karzai's post 2014 legacy. BSA is widely perceived as the single reason preventing Afghanistan from relapse into yet another civil war, and is the physiological guarantor of peaceful political transition in 2014 through democratic processes, elections. Although many notorious Afghan warlords are potential Presidential or Vice-President hopefuls, however, they can go rough and undermine the legitimacy and outcomes of the presidential elections in the absence of international forces, "President Karzai can't allow another chaotic civil war on his watch, and he is, undoubtedly, convinced that he needs full support of international forces to make things rights for Afghanistan next year," said a close member of President Karzia's inner circle with the condition of anonymity. Qayum Karzai -- a potential presidential candidate and President Karzai's brother -- in an interview with a local TV channel explicitly stressed on the importance of BSA, its economic benefits and importance to combat terrorism and bringing security for Afghanistan and the region.

Obviously, President Karzai is concerned about sovereignty of the Afghan state under BSA or if Afghan legal system supersedes that of the U.S. in case of criminal acts conducted by U.S. forces. But the bigger question he must be concerned about is whether in the absence of such agreement Afghanistan can really guarantee its territorial integrity, sovereignty, stability and economic prosperity experienced in the past 12 years?

Hamid M. Saboory is a former employee of the Afghan National Security Council. Currently he teaches International Law at Kardan University. Mr. Saboory is a founding member of the Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness (A3), a Kabul-based think tank.

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