By: Luke Gould
The new Afghan “National Unity” government, led by President Ashraf Ghani Ahmahzai, will sign a deal allowing nearly 10,000 American troops to stay in the country after 2014, which marks the formal end of US-NATO combat operations.
The announcement came on Monday during Ghani’s inauguration ceremony. This Bilateral Security Agreement will be officially signed on Tuesday in Kabul.
The agreement will officially keep forces on the ground only as advisors to train and assist the Afghan national army. This deal will also allow American forces continual access to Afghan bases and logistics. Forces on the ground will, in all likelihood, still operate to direct coalition airstrikes and conduct special operations.
The last Afghan administration, led by former President Hamid Karzai, refused the deal. The president would not budge on the issue of ending American airstrikes and Special Forces raids, which have caused the most civilian deaths during the 13 year occupation. Karzai’s continual denial of this request came to a surprise to many who considered the former head of state little more than an American puppet.
President Ghani shares his power with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani’s first act in office was the creation of Abdullah’s new position. Both men ran for the presidency and both promised during campaigning to sign the agreement with the American government.
Ghani spent the better part of two and half decades overseas, primarily in the US and other western countries. Before his involvement in politics he was an economist with the World Bank. Neither he nor Abdullah have voiced concerns regarding continuing civilian deaths as a result of American operations.
To some the new administration in Afghanistan and this new deal represent progress. “We have a perfect opportunity to reset this relationship now that there is more pragmatic leadership,” commented Marc Chretien, a previous political advisor to coalition leadership in Afghanistan.
To others the new order represents little more than renewed American efforts to consolidate control over the Afghan political structure. There are those who would accuse Ghani of being the latest and most malleable in American client governments.
The new government’s vice president, Abdul Rashid Dotsom, is one of the country’s most well established and infamous warlords. The now President Ghani has even called Dotsom a “known killer”. This further calls into question the legitimacy of the new government.
In addition, the election which brought this government to power is marred in controversy. Abdullah Abudullah, the new Chief Executive, initially refused to recognize the presidential victory of Ghani. Abudullah and many other prominent figures in Afghanistan believed the election to be ripe with fraud. Washington oversaw a deal for a recount. An EU election team concluded last week that the recount was “inconsistently and hastily applied under high political tension,” resulting in “an imperfect effort to separate fraudulent votes from clean votes.” In short, neither the election nor the recount can be deemed truly democratic or their results accurate.
The Washington sponsored recount was only accepted as ultimatum. Afghanistan relies on foreign aid for nearly two-thirds of its expenditures, much of it coming from the US. The US threatened to end all aid to Afghanistan if the recount did not occur.
The new deal plans to cut the 10,000 troops in half by 2015 and totally withdraw all forces by 2017. Ultimately, the commitment of troops past 2014 could mean keeping the region, a perpetual powder keg of tensions, from exploding. That being said, it could also mean an essentially open ended war that, despite administration promises, could continue indefinitely. One can only hope that in spite of the questionability of the new Afghan government and the even more questionable actions of the American administration, that the situation will be stabilized before more innocents suffer.
Photo Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner