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As Afghanistan Faces a Critical Year, President Karzai Plays a “Risky Game”

As United States combat forces prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, the country's president Hamid Karzai is dragging his feet on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). The document provides a legal framework for a limited presence of American troops in Afghanistan after 2014, mainly to train the country's security forces. 

“Unnecessary” complications

The BSA was negotiated in 2012. In an apparent attempt to share the responsibility for signing the agreement with tribal elders, Hamid Karzai convened a loya jirga, or the grand assembly, in November 2013, to weigh in on his decision to strike the deal with the US. The tribal elders supported the security pact and urged Karzai to sign the document promptly. The Afghan president, however, has chosen to ignore loya jirga's recommendation, telling the elders that he would not sign the BSA until after the presidential elections due in April 2014.

Interestingly, the chair of loya jirga has called the four-day gathering of the assembly “unnecessary,” saying that Karzai should have signed the security pact without the tribal elders’ approval.

Concerned over the controversies within the Afghan government, Samira Hamidi tweeted:

“Risky game”

Karzai's decision to postpone the inking of the agreement has been interpreted as a “risky game of brinkmanship” ahead of the elections. The “game” has created an atmosphere of uncertainly among Afghan netizens. 

Hamid Karzai addressing the joint meeting of US Congress on June 15, 2004. Image by the White House, part of public domain.

Hamid Karzai addressing the joint meeting of US Congress on June 15, 2004. Image by the White House, part of public domain.

Twitter user Watan Dar offers an explanation for Karzai's unwillingness to sign the pact:

A recent survey suggests that the majority of Afghans support the new security pact with US. Many prominent Afghan politicians are also in favor of the deal. Mahmoud Saikal, the country's former deputy foreign minister stated that Afghanistan needs the BSA. Amrullah Saleh, a former national security chief, tweeted:

Karzai's reluctance to ink the security agreement has found support from the Taliban leaders. Reacting to loya jirga's approval of the BSA, a senior Taliban leader pledged that the group would continue fighting as long as the foreign “infidel” troops remain in Afghanistan. He also stated that the Taliban did not have any hope left for peace with the current regime.

Other opposition parties in the country have a more favorable view of the new security agreement. The Cooperation Council of Political Parties and Coalitions of Afghanistan (CCPPCA) proposed to sign the BSA immediately, noting that the delay might compromise the fragile security and jeopardize the 2014 elections.

Courting neighbors

After refusing to finalize the BSA by the end of 2013, Karzai spent his energy during the last weeks of the year visiting Iran, Pakistan, and India. Interestingly, Iran urged Karzai not to strike the deal with US, warning that a continued presence of American troops was a threat to the region. 

Concerned about the possible consequences of Karzai's “games”, Afghan netizens tweeted:

Some netizens, however, believe that the new security agreement with the US is not actually such a big deal:

“Playing with fire”

In a bid to convince Karzai to finalize the security agreement, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari visited Kabul in December 2013. Zebari claimed that the security pact was in Afghanistan's best interests, pointing to a deterioration in security in Iraq after its refusal to ink a security agreement with the US.

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and US National Security Advisor Susan Rise have warned Karzai that his unwillingness to sign the BSA might lead to a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. In addition, James Dobbins (US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan) warned Afghanistan of civil war if the agreement was not signed.

Arif Rafiq tweeted:

2014 is a critical year for Afghanistan as the US and NATO troops are leaving the country, handing over the responsibility for maintaining security to the fledgling national security forces. Hamid Karzai who has served as Afghanistan's president during the past twelve years will be replaced in elections due in less than four months. While he refuses to finalize the security pact with the US, other presidential hopefuls have remained silent on the issue. Therefore, what is awaiting Afghanistan and its people in the near future remains a mystery. 

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