In an article written in The New York Times yesterday, Qais Akbar Omar, an Afghan residing in US, speaks of the rising nervousness in Afghanistan about the country’s future after the exit of US troops. The main reason for concern is the ongoing standoff between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama on signing the bilateral security agreement that Washington needs signed immediately for its continued presence in the country after the troop pullout. Karzai’s decision to delay the signing has caused huge uncertainty. Prices are rising in the country, many financially well-off Afghans are leaving the country to safer zones abroad and those who are unable to leave are deeply worried. Afghans fear that if Americans go, the country will be engulfed in another civil war, exactly as happened after the Russians left in 1989.
What is more worrying is that the concern of ordinary Afghans is not shared by their government. The unwillingness of the Karzai government to sign the security deal is baffling and incomprehensible. Though he is free to negotiate the terms of the agreement and make sure that Afghanistan’s interests are fully protected, there is no justification for delaying it signing. The delay is emboldening the Taliban, weakening the morale of Afghan forces and brining uncertainty to the lives of ordinary people.
The bilateral agreement would determine the scope of activity for American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. US combat troops are drawing down from Afghanistan as planned, but the other part of the plan -- to leave some US and Nato forces behind for training and peacekeeping missions -- is still unclear. Among contentious issues are that Karzai’s office wants US assurances that it will play a key role in peace talks with the Taliban and stop night-time raids on Afghan homes.
At the same time, Karzai might have his own reasons to take a stubborn stance. He was installed by the US after the ouster of Taliban and therefore is seen as a representative of the US. By refusing to toe the US line, he could be trying to prove his own integrity, impartiality and courage. Also, he may want to remain relevant in the decision-making process until the very end.
This is a crucial year for Afghanistan. The country is holding presidential and local elections next month and the new government will have the Himalayan task of protecting itself from Taliban, which is waiting for the exit of US forces to unleash its fury on Kabul. The new government will be in a better position to sign a security agreement with Washington. And that agreement needs to be one that will preserve the gains made so far.