US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement

A Sinister Plan to Stay Put in Afghanistan? | On September 30, soon after the swearing-in of the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the Bilateral Security Agreement (hereinafter BSA) between Afghanistan and the United States was signed in Kabul. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham and Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmar signed the BSA that will ensure a US/NATO troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. On the same day, Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with NATO, whose combat mission is scheduled to end this year, was also signed.

During recent months, serious concerns rose about the future of Afghanistan as uncertainty and ambiguity were galore owing to controversies regarding the presidential election and faltering economy. Nonetheless, with formation of a unity government and now with the signing of the BSA, the controversies has ended and the situation has become more optimistic. Now, there are hopes about the return of political stability and improvement in economic situation of the country.

It was just not possible till Karzai left, but the Americans have finally got the BSA There were fears that declining to sign the BSA would harm Afghan interests and could generate a power vacuum that can be filled by the insurgents. The new Afghan president and other notable leaders believe that signing of the Agreement would have a positive impact on the security situation in Afghanistan.

It is interesting to note that running after the Arrangement upset the Americans’ withdrawal plans a couple of times and even frustrated Washington into making threats it could not follow up on. Nevertheless, it has drawn a favourable regional response, especially from Pakistan. Islamabad has done the right thing by embracing this development, despite talk of the last few years that regional peace will remain elusive as long as the occupying forces do not wrap up lock, stock and barrel.

But, along with Zarb-e-Azb, this sort of distance from ‘strategic depth’ posturing of the past should land Pakistan in a more respectable position vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The old charge – that Pakistan tolerates militants on home soil, if not much, much more – is a lot more difficult to stick now. Instead, Islamabad is taking the lead in the most comprehensive anti-militancy drive in the region, and the Afghans have been found wanting in terms of securing borders, apprehending militants on their side, etc. But with the security pact now in place and confusion about Kabul and Washington’s role over, there is a very real possibility of all three powers finally tightening the noose around al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in both countries.

The logical sequence, therefore, is to follow US-Afghanistan convergence of interests with getting Pakistan on board, and redefining terms of cooperation in what should be the last round of fighting against AfPak insurgencies. But the diplomatic exercise should not end there. Other countries in the region, particularly Iran and China, have high stakes as well, and can play a big role not only in helping win the fight, but also in subsequent reconstruction that will be crucial. Once again the entire region stands at a crossroads. Like the fall of ’01, decisions taken now will reverberate through the years. It is hoped that lessons learnt over the last decade and a half will not be lost, and the new partnership will have a better sense of priorities. Number one should be eliminating terrorism, following which economic and diplomatic linkages should be strengthened.

Things to know about the BSA

1. The BSA goes into force on January 1, 2015 and remains in force “until the end of 2024 and beyond” unless it is terminated by either side with two years’ notice.

2. The document itself does not establish how many US troops can be in Afghanistan during that time, but the US President Barack Obama announced in May that there would be only 9,800 soldiers after December 31, 2014. He also said that number would decrease rapidly by being halved at the end of 2015 and reduced to only a vestigial force by end of 2016.

3. Kabul signed a similar agreement with NATO on September 30 to allow 4,000 to 5,000 additional troops — mostly from Britain, Germany, Italy and Turkey — to stay in Afghanistan in a non-combat role after 2014.

4. The US forces’ mission under the BSA is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.” Importantly, however, the BSA says that “unless otherwise mutually agreed, United States’ forces shall not conduct combat operations in Afghanistan.” Instead, the emphasis is upon supporting the Afghan forces, sharing intelligence, and strengthening Afghanistan’s air force capabilities.

5. A special Loya Jirga (traditional grand assembly) convened by the then president Hamid Karzai to review the draft of the BSA found its language regarding soldiers entering homes acceptable and recommended the president to accept it.

6. That language — repeated in the text signed on September 30 — commits US forces to having “full regard for the safety and security of the Afghan people, including in their homes.”

7. Another sticking point had been whether US forces remaining in Afghanistan would be immune from Afghan law, as they have been since entering the country in 2001.

8. The BSA does give Afghanistan jurisdiction over “United States contractors and United States contractor employees.”

9. The BSA is not a defence pact which would commit the United States to defending Afghanistan if it were attacked by another state. But the text does say that  Washington “shall regard with grave concern any external aggression or threat of external aggression.”

10. The BSA authorizes US forces to maintain existing facilities and undertake new constructions so long as they are agreed upon by both sides.


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