Jirga Approves BSA While Karzai Stands by Pledge to Delay Signing

After Sunday got off to a historic start with the announcement of an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, the day continued to be momentous as the loya jirga in Kabul approved the Bilateral Security Agreement between the US and Afghanistan. Even though the jirga coupled its approval of the agreement with a plea to Karzai to sign it immediately (the chair of the meeting, a former Afghan president, threatened to leave the country if Karzai doesn’t sign), Karzai followed through on his warning from his opening remarks of the four day meeting on Thursday and stated that he will delay signing the agreement until Afghanistan’s elections are completed in April.

Formal approval of the BSA comes as a big surprise for me. I have maintained since the start of negotiations a year ago that the Afghanistan agreement would go the same route as the Iraq agreement and that our military would be forced into a complete withdrawal, primarily over the issue of criminal immunity for the troops remaining in the country. While that “zero option” remains a distinct possibility, it now would be forced by Karzai’s delay in signing the agreement where immunity has now been granted.

The second big surprise for me is that I did not expect security surrounding the jirga to be a complete success. I feared at least one successful attack, especially after the site was hit with a suicide attack just a few days before the gathering began. However, a security force that apparently numbered around 25,000 strong appears to have thwarted a number of additional suicide attacks and at least one planned rocket attack.

By having the approval for the BSA in hand while refusing to sign it, Karzai has built a huge point of leverage over the final issue that threatened to derail the agreement. Unilateral counterterrorism raids by the US, especially in the form of night raids that enter the homes of Afghan citizens, were the final sticking point for Karzai. The US reluctantly agreed at the final minute to provide an assurance in the form of a letter from President Barack Obama that such raids would occur only under exceptional circumstances when the lives of US troops were at stake. Most likely because he remembers just how readily the US lies when developing agreements with Afghanistan on issues where there is disagreement, Karzai has warned the US that the very next night raid will mean that he never signs the agreement. From ToloNews:

“If there is one more raid on Afghan homes by U.S. forces, there is no BSA. The U.S. can’t go into our homes from this moment onward,” President Karzai said in his closing remarks at the Jirga on Sunday.

Karzai’s brinksmanship has set up a very high stakes game of “chicken” played by two junkies. The US has stated that it must know by the end of this year whether the BSA will be signed now that it has been approved. Karzai has stated that he will wait until at least April for signing. Just who will blink first is anyone’s guess. The US is strongly addicted to night raids. Will they be able to hold off on them, even for a month? Karzai is equally addicted to the billions of dollars the US pumps into Afghanistan’s economy. Will he hold off his signature past the date at which the US has warned it will drop pursuit of the agreement and proceed with a full withdrawal–of both troops and funds? Will the US allow the decision point on the zero option to be delayed until after the April elections?

14 replies
  1. bloodypitchfork says:

    quote”Will he hold off his signature past the date at which the US has warned it will drop pursuit of the agreement and proceed with a full withdrawal–of both troops and funds?”unquote

    That depends on how fast he spends his fortune.

    quote:”Will the US allow the decision point on the zero option to be delayed until after the April elections?”unquote

    No. They learned from Iraq. They’ll simply kill him if he doesn’t sign.
    The ruling class know’s there’s $40 trillion in resources. Their not about to let it slip out of their greedy hands.


  2. Don Bacon says:

    Why does the US need to know by the end of the year? Washington hasn’t said. Iraq went up to the final few months. But in the meantime the US was evacuating, transferring or destroying nearly all its equipment, and removing nearly all its troops.

    Obviously the US needs more time in Afghanistan because it intends to retain more troops in more places. So the longer Karzai takes to sign, the more must be removed somehow.

    The major factor, as I have previously commented, is sovereignty. Karzai doesn’t have it but he must (for political and personal reasons) make the effort to gain something the US, in spite of its rhetoric, has never granted. House raids is one prime example.

    Basic difference, affecting many aspects: Iraq has oil and Afghanistan doesn’t.

  3. joanneleon says:

    I suspect that Karzai is going to change his mind by the end of the year. But you’re right, he is holding onto that leverage. I just wonder if he’s holding onto it until he makes sure he’s settled into a safe position before he signs because once he signs, and he’s a lame duck, he’s got nothing and he’s not getting along particularly well with NATO. Is is possible that he’s just afraid they’re going to throw him under the bus as soon as he puts a pen to paper?

  4. TarheelDem says:

    Was the action of the loya jirga a recorded vote in which the Yeas and Nays are known, a consensus stated by one delegate and not disagreed with, or what? Are the identities of the the delegates who supported the BSA known or is the entire loya jirga now potential targets for assassination? Given the range of people at the loya jirga, what constraints does that put on the opposition?

    Are the internal politics of this ambiguity as clearcut as we think it is?

    If Karzai delays to April, what that does is place his action out of the context of the US budget fight coming up in January and beyond the scheduled release of the President’s budget. (Likely the US wants clarity in order to adjust the military budget for years after 2014.) Is Karzai using the only leverage he has to try to force the issue of sovereignty that might buy him time to make other arrangements? If so, that would tend to dampen the power of the potential of future grift.

    The biggest danger to Karzai and the loya jirga is the continued presence of foreign troops operating with impunity. The second biggest danger to Karzai and the loya jirga right now is the the withdrawal of the foreign troops that are handicapping the power of their enemies. Within that Karzai and now the loya jirga are seeking to unwind the internal divisions in Afghanistan so as to avoid a political collapse of the current regime and another even brief civil war that brings a Taliban government to power once again. Does delay until April give them that space?

  5. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: Karzai has sufficient sovereignty to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an observer and to consult bilaterally with Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, and Pakistan.

  6. C says:

    However, a security force that apparently numbered around 25,000 strong appears to have thwarted a number of additional suicide attacks and at least one planned rocket attack.

    The Iraqi’s opposed the agreement with good reason but are now coming around seeking security support after attacks not only failed to end with the U.S. withdrawl but went up. It seems likely to me that that plus knowing that they faced rocket attacks may have motivated the Jirga to say yes.

    Ultimately however the decision may not be up to Karzai or Obama. If Pakistan continues to seethe with anger over drone strikes then we may not have the supply lines we need anyway.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    1. Talking domestic sovereignty.
    2. The SCO doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

    Anyhow, President Hamid Karzai is soon gone from the presidency but ’til then he wants to be more than a US client.

    Karzai is convinced, Afghan officials say, that publicly establishing his sovereignty will help him garner the support he needs to sell a partnership with the United States to the Afghan public, paving the way for the presence of American troops beyond 2014. Without such an agreement, political instability and deteriorating security could prompt the reemergence of ethnic and political factions, including some who count Karzai as an enemy and would like to see him dead.

    “We need the people’s support,” said Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, explaining the logic behind some of the recent statements. “We need that support in order to sign the bilateral security agreement.”

    Karzai seems eager to prove that he is willing to stomach an Afghanistan without foreign troops if it means that he’ll have proved his independence. The man who came to power thanks to American support would then leave behind a far different legacy, as officials close to him see it — that of a strong, sovereign Afghan leader “working for his own people,” Faizi said.

    The US just doesn’t get this, even though Petraeus’s ‘bible’ says:

    FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency
    Legitimacy Is the Main Objective
    1-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.
    1-120. Military action can address the symptoms of a loss of legitimacy. In some cases, it can eliminate substantial numbers of insurgents. However, success in the form of a durable peace requires restoring legitimacy, which, in turn, requires the use of all instruments of national power. A COIN effort cannot achieve lasting success without the HN government achieving legitimacy.

  8. Bob Stapp says:

    “Formal approval of the BSA comes as a big surprise for me.”

    I’ve been coming to Afghanistan off and on since early 2008 and have been here more or less continuously since a year ago August. As I sit here in Kabul on a Tuesday morning, I can say that I would have been surprised as well had I not been spending a good deal of time discussing the situation with my Afghan friends and colleagues.

    Afghans are well aware – and when I say “well aware,” I mean “WELL AWARE” – of how much their country has been jerked around by everybody from Alexander the Great to the Soviets over the past years – and when I say “years,” I mean “centuries” – and they don’t want to put up with it anymore. In spite of some of the horrors wreaked by American forces since 2001 (drone attacks, night raids, deaths of children and other innocents), they are still experiencing more stability than most of them have experienced in their lifetimes. They believe – and perhaps rightly so – that withdrawal of the U.S. military will leave them defenseless against the regional powers that would like to claim the right to exploit Afghanistan for their own purposes. (Pakistan already treats Afghanistan as a captive economy and India continues to make strong moves to build an economic presence which irritates Pakistan which makes India all the more determined, etc., etc.)

    Particularly in the past two years, I have witnessed an amazing surge (not the Petraeus kind) in the Kabul economy. Construction is booming, both residential and commercial, to the point that I’m actually somewhat concerned with OVER-building and low occupancy rates. There is now a supermarket chain with 7 outlets and, fercryinoutloud, they have just introduced a supermarket affinity card! Seedy mom and pop street-side convenience stores are starting to give way to honest-to-god big box stores selling sporting goods, furniture and electronics, not that “big box” stores are necessarily a good thing.

    By my very rough, seat-of-the-pants estimate, one-fourth of the younger generation of Afghans are at least semi computer and internet literate. While connectivity (forget high-speed broadband) across the country is iffy, internet cafes in even the smaller towns and cities allow for at least weekly checking of email and I seriously can’t recall talking to an Afghan recently who DOESN’T post on Facebook. As for mobile phones, they are everywhere. You can’t even find a Kuchi nomad out in the sticks tending his sheep without a cell phone glued to his ear. The most popular TV program in the country, “Afghan Star”, is an “American Idol” clone and over 9 million people text message their votes when it’s down to the finals.

    There is a very widespread revulsion for the Taliban and insurgents in general. An Afghan colleague, commenting an a story of the summary execution by beheading of three recent recruits to the Afghan National Police, said, “I hate those people. They’re not human.” For an Afghan to express that kind of sentiment to a foreigner is almost unheard of, but I have come to understand that sharing that opinion is not uncommon among Afghans.

    What I am trying to say, in short, is that Afghans don’t want to see the admittedly fragile stability they have achieved wiped out with a return to the bad old days and they see the U.S. military as the only thing that right now can prevent it. My own opinion is that, regardless of what happens, the Afghans are now connected to the larger world to such an extent that there will be no putting THAT toothpaste back in the tube.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    @Bob Stapp:
    Twelve thousand US troops would somehow prevent the coming, or continuing, chaos in a country of thirty million which is subject to strong foreign interests?
    I don’t think so. In fact, those twelve thousand soldiers stuck in half a dozen isolated bases in a hostile, land-locked chaotic country and not able to move freely would be in severe danger themselves.

  10. TarheelDem says:

    @Don Bacon: “Domestic sovereignty” = legitimacy + actual military control. The US can give him neither of those because the more it moves on the one, the more it loses on the other. That is the contradiction of foreign troops trying to do counterinsurgency and the proximate reason the US failed in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan despite having overwhelming resources. It could only work in Afghanistan if the US sent in 4 million troops and even then the topography itself might have required the commitment of more troops. And that is before you consider the troop requirements for the complicated logistics. The alternative is to remove foreign troops as a delegitimizing factor entirely. And where does that put Karzai?

    What undercut Karzai’s legitimacy was: (1) failure to cut deals with regional warlords early on, (2) blatant corruption and rigging of elections, (3) the bigoted behavior of US troops with their “raghead Muslim” framing internally, (4) the very US actions that required the granting of immunity and the fact that they persist.

    Petraeus’s manual was treated as the bullshit it is. COIN is a US Vietnam veteran officer’s pipe dream to avoid seeing the obvious: we should never have fought in Vietnam in the first place. The government of Vietnam was illegitimate from the beginning and the Vietnamese knew that. Turning an illegitimate government into a legitimate one through foreign power only worked once: in Western Germany. And even then it took 10 million troops in the beginning, a flexible leader in Adenauer, an external threat from the Soviet Union, and 44 years of operating as a fortress. And that was the result of a post-war occupation. Where do these military theorists get the idea that COIN is so easy to do?

  11. TarheelDem says:

    @Bob Stapp: Have you been outside of Kabul?

    How much of the population is now in Kabul?

    Are there similar sentiments in Kandahar?

    What exactly are you doing in Afghanistan anyway? And how sure are you that your friends represent the general opinions of even ordinary people in Kabul and how much they represent the opinions of folks who are dependent and benefit from the large US investments in the military that have been made there?

  12. Don Bacon says:


    I agree that Afghanistan doesn’t have sovereignty because of US military and financial control. My point is basically the same as yours — it’s a nuts situation.

    –The US has repeatedly claimed that Afghanistan is sovereign, and has (SecState Clinton) even declared that Afghanistan is a major non-NATO ally.

    –On the other hand, the US treatment, on the civilian and on the military sides, is as to a puppet.

    –This causes a major problem for President Karzai, especially with Taleban calling out his obeisance.

    –So this is why Karzai acts the way he does, and a lot of people have trouble understanding that. They (not JW) claim that Karzai is irrational, petty, egotistic, etc etc but his performance is entirely rational given his circumstances.

    That’s my point. It’s why Karzai won’t click his heels and say yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. It seems to the western mind to be irrational, but Afghanistan is tribal, and Karzai is a man of his people and not one of American people.

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