Monday, November 25, 2013

Baby, please don’t go!

Hamid Karzai is delaying the bilateral security agreement with the United States, despite the loya jirga’s approval for the agreement - the neighbors are restless.

The common assumption is that if the agreement was to fall through and American troops left Afghanistan, the country would be overrun again by the Taliban. Karzai’s delay is likely just an attempt at securing his legacy and image as a strong leader that fought for Afghanistan, rather than being a puppet to America.  Like with most leaders around the world, legacy is important, especially when it is necessary to sign away a bit of national sovereignty to the United States in order to keep the country from falling back onto worse times.

Theater aside, Pakistan and Tajikistan are watching closely.  Both have keen interest in the United States staying in Afghanistan.  While the Pakistani government may be publicly critical of U.S. drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), it does welcome the U.S. militaryaid and U.S. drones killing Pakistani Taliban leaders.  It also benefits from the relative stability that comes with U.S. presence in Afghanistan.  Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan would strengthen its Pakistani branch located in the FATA along the border which would impact internal security in Pakistan.  Obviously, due to the social stress and tension that foreign military presence brings neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan want American presence in their countries if they can avoid it, but right now, it seems that the bilateral security agreement is the best option.
While Tajikistan does not necessarily come to mind right away with respect to American presence in Afghanistan, because of its common border with Afghanistan, it has significant interest in having its neighbor as stable as possible.  Tajikistan is one of the least developed former Soviet Union states and suffered greatly during its civil war in the mid-90s.  The southern region of the country is particularly poor and the border with Afghanistan is long and largely unguarded.  Along with being a low income country with limited defense funds, this makes securing the border especially difficult.  In addition, President Emomali Rakhmon, after having been in office for good twenty years, was re-elected on November 6th for his fourth seven-year term (It is noteworthy that the U.S. and the E.U. have not as of yet recognized any election in Tajikistan as free and fair since its independence).  Tajikistan has seen an increase in Islamist militancy and drug trafficking over the past three to five years. In order to prevent "spillover" between conflicts in Central Asia, the U.S. has increased military aid to Tajikistan, despite the large amount of known corruption in the government. Another attempt to counter this increase in militancy, in October 2012 Rakhmon extended a lease to Russia for a military base left over from the Soviet era for another thirty years.  This may give a good idea about how vulnerable parts of Tajikistan could be if the U.S.-Afghan agreement fell through.  Unfortunately for Tajiks, even if the U.S. keeps military presence in Afghanistan, they are still denied constitutional democracy, economic development and freedom of speech.

Hopefully Karzai does not overdo his play to keep face - if the agreement is not signed, his legacy may mean instability and insecurity not just for Afghans but also Pakistanis and Tajiks.

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