Look Out! Pakistan
Inam R Sehri
To mark Osama Bin Laden’s first anniversary, the US President Obama paid a surprise visit to Kabul on 2nd May 2012. There he also signed a ‘Strategic Partnership Agreement’ with Afghan Chief Executive Hamid Karzai thus entered perhaps the most complicated phase of its decade-long war in Afghanistan. Beating the [practically non-existing] dead horse again at a military base near Kabul, President Obama said that ‘we have a clear path to fulfil our mission in Afghanistan. The goal that I set, to defeat Al Qaeda and deny it the chance to rebuild, is now within our reach. Our goal is to destroy Al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that.’ The speech did not lay out any new timetable for withdrawal of the US forces.
As against the original American plans of withdrawal from the South Asian Region [announced in West Point Academy address on 1st December 2009], this accord pledged enhanced US financial and military support beyond 2014, overtly displaying to the world that it owes no intentions to quit for another decade at least. During the next one year both governments would work out exact features of a long-term military partnership keeping Iraq agreement in sight but Karzai expected more than that. Though in his speech, Obama made it clear that ‘the US will not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. We will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains.’
At this moment, Afghanistan’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with India, signed in October 2011 at New Delhi should be kept in mind; also that on 20th May, the US and its allies would gather in Chicago to reinforce Obama’s commitments for Afghan security. Given the current inability of Afghanistan to support a large armed force, the US and its allies are expected to pledge an annual payment of nearly $4 billion at the Chicago conference. In July, the world powers would again assemble in Tokyo and make financial pledges to Afghanistan’s development in the coming years.
Pakistan would not ignore US envoy in Afghanistan Mr Crocker’s policy statement that ‘… if we or Afghanistan are threatened or attacked by countries outside of Afghanistan, we have the right of self-defence.’ Include Taliban’s attack events in this scenario too. Both Afghan and US officials celebrated the accord calling it a historic bilateral commitment; a new beginning in the US-Afghan relationship but for Afghan people it was not a point of jubilation because, as per White House’s fact sheet, ‘the Strategic Partnership Agreement itself does not commit the United States to any specific troop levels or levels of funding in the future’, thus the actual decision lies with the US Congress; like another Kerry Lugar Bill for Afghanistan.
Simultaneously, Karzai was quick to remind his Interior Ministry that ‘if you have any doubt about any US intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it,’ reminding of Karzai’s vision of a sovereign Afghanistan. Afghan government has already blocked NATO’s notorious night operations and has also demanded control of the sole US military prison including its detainees; the US officials have expressed concern about both prospects. The same like fears were felt by the American intelligentsia; see Anthony Cordesman’s essay published at website of Centre for Strategic and International Studies Washington’, saying that:
‘None of the tensions between the US and the Karzai government have gone away. The broader problems with Afghan governance and corruption are not diminishing. Progress in creating effective Afghan forces is increasingly questionable, the insurgents are clearly committed to going on with the fight, and relations with Pakistan seem to take two steps backward for every apparent step forward.’
A wide gulf of mistrust prevails amongst the two; recall the events of burning of the Holy Qura’an at Bagram Air Base in February 2012; murder of 16 men, women and children by an American sergeant in southern Afghanistan in March 2012; killings of Westerners by rogue Afghan security forces and sharp rise of Taliban infiltrators accounting for 20% of NATO casualties this year.
Till yesterday, the US & NATO have operated in the Afghan region under United Nations Security provisions but now Kabul would seek to negotiate a ‘Status of Forces Agreement” with Washington defining legal terms and conditions under which the US forces would operate. Nearly 50 per cent of the country has already become the responsibility of Afghan security forces but aspiring to take the full charge by 2013; though Obama had another one year in mind while saying that:
‘Our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.’
President Obama’s visit was retaliated just hours after Obama left Kabul on the same day of 2nd May when the Taliban launched an attack [detonating a car bomb, allowing four assailants disguised in burqas and armed with hand grenades] on Green Village in Kabul’s outskirts killing seven civilians and wounding about twelve. It was a clear message to Obama not to think about permanent bases in Afghanistan.
As per Afghan-US agreement, ‘some’ US troops will remain in Afghanistan to pursue the essential missions: train, advise and assist Afghan forces, help Kabul defend its sovereignty, and conduct counter-terror operations in the region, especially against Pakistan. Obama’s message to the Afghan people was that ‘as you stand up, you will not stand alone.’ Perhaps the Americans has learnt a lesson from the history that they had to fight the longest war of the US history here because after Soviet’s expulsion from the region in 1980s, they had left Pakistan alone to suffer the after effects and miseries of war. Recalling the catastrophe of Pakistan, Obama had to assert that ‘I am confident that the Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them.’
Obama’s new Afghan accord became a big challenge for the Taliban and Pakistan, which had assumed that time & tune was on their side and that Karzai regime would collapse around 2014 or earlier. Obama also knew that Afghanistan’s sovereignty would continue to depend upon cooperation from Pakistan; which was not currently available to them.
For many in America, it is the start of presidential campaign from Obama. Afghanistan is also aspiring for a new presidential election at any suitable moment. The American military drawdown is highlighted for the forthcoming election scenario in both countries. Ponder about Obama’s key deliberations:
‘I recognize that many Americans are tired of war but we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly. The goals are limited. To build a country in America’s image or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban would require many more years, many more dollars, and most importantly, many more American lives.’
President Obama has tried to kill two birds with one cartridge.
However, Obama’s visit and signing of a new accord was a good answer to Pakistan and Afghani Taliban which thought that the Americans were leaving the region much before than 2014; they are going to stay for another decade at least.