US future in Afghanistan: mixed signals and confused reaction
Iman Hasan Monday, July 11, 2011
KABUL: The US negotiators are said to be frustrated with the revisions made by the Afghan government in their draft of the Strategic Plan Document (SPD). The document is to chalk out conditions for the stay of US troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
SPD also defines the post 2014 relationship between Afghanistan and US in terms of economic assistance and development in the country. However, the most important outcome of SPD would be the permanent US bases in Afghanistan. The document is a US message that it is not militarily disengaging from the post 2014 Afghanistan.
SPD, which was originally handed over by Hillary Clinton to President Karzai during Munich Security Conference in February this year, has been a source of concern for the people of Afghanistan and important regional countries.
Karzai government’s proposal to apply local laws over the US troops in post 2014 strategic engagement is delaying signing of the document by the two governments. On the other hand, the US government wants it contrary and does not want to restrict its troops under the local laws of Afghanistan. As announced by the Afghan government, the document was supposed to be signed by the end of May this year.
The end 2014 is the cut off date announced by the US government to complete the transition process of transferring the security responsibility to the Afghan forces. While ending its combat mission, US wants to keep sizeable number of its troops occupying few key military bases.
The US’ intention of keeping its military presence in Afghanistan even after 2014 were first disclosed by President Karzai in a press conference in February this year after he returned from the Munich Security Conference.
Later he also publicly criticised the US military presence as “intrusive,” stating that a long-term presence of a huge number of foreign soldiers would only deteriorate the Afghan war.
President Karzai’s disclosure received a tough response from the majority of Afghans and the important regional countries. Russian foreign ministry while opposing permanent US bases in Afghanistan raised few pointed questions — “Why will US military bases be needed if the terrorist threat in Afghanistan is ended? Will Kabul be able to combine negotiations on a long-term American military presence with the reconciliation process? How will Afghanistan’s neighbours view the deployment of a foreign country’s military bases near their territory?”
Russia’s opposition is growing stronger over the period of time. Recently it has also raised the issue in the UN Security Council saying that US should not step beyond its mandate.Iran’s defence minister called this plan an American effort “to add another ring to the chain of its hegemony in the region.”
China has not yet publicly responded to US intentions but has said to have expressed concerns over the plans of US prolonged military presence in the meetings with both Afghans and Americans.
Pakistan isn’t publicly vocal about it but privately advised caution to the Afghan government. Whereas the Afghan public has outrightly rejected the US plans as the results of a survey conducted by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) suggest. UNAMA with its 23 offices in Afghanistan conducted the survey across the country some two months back and hasn’t published it. Although, the survey’s findings are widely known. If published the stark survey results will undermine the US’ future strategic plans.
While at the leadership level there are mixed signals and confused reaction. The miniscule Westernised elite of Afghanistan, who are benefiting from the war economy, are in favour of this plan while the prominent figures who fought against the soviet occupation are against long term foreign military presence.
Karzai’s cabinet is also divided on this issue. His national security advisor and the defence minister are in favour of it while several other ministers strongly oppose it. Under the mounting domestic and foreign pressure President Karzai has already announced the commission to convene the traditional jirga to decide about the post 2014 strategic engagement with the US.
The last such jirga was held in June 2010 in which over 1,600 Afghans participated and gave a unanimous decision to start the reconciliation process with the Taliban. The idea of permanent bases is only substantiating the general perception of the regional countries as well as Afghans, that US’ strategic interest lies beyond Afghanistan. Besides the bases that US wants to retain are in the bordering areas which further generate insecurity of the neighbouring countries.
The four key military bases which US is likely to retain to perpetuate its presence are: Bagram, in the north of Kabul; Kandahar, along the southern border with Pakistan; Shindand, along the western border with Iran and Mazar-e-Sharif, along the northern border with Central Asia for the northern supply route.
As it was reported earlier also that the expansion of the bases in Kandahar and Shindand has already started and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to upgrade them where aircraft as huge as Galaxy will be able to operate. Already US military bases are expanded over huge areas but for the Galaxy military aircraft to land and takeoff, it needs about 2,000 meters long runway.
The widely expressed apprehension from common man in the street to the ministers and diplomats is; if US couldn’t bring peace in Afghanistan in 10 years with about 150,000 troops then how would it be possible with a limited number of US soldiers confined to few military bases?
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