With Afghan Runoff Audit Hopelessly Mired, Clock Running Out on US Hopes for BSA

I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel.  Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass.  The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.

The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.

It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.

Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.

12 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    From the interests of the Afghanistan people, what is required is a political agreement among all of the factions that restores peace and creates a functioning governmental system. From US intervention in 2001, the US presence has distracted from that happening and one wonders what advantage any of the aspiring leaders think being a US vassal provides at this point. Because vassalage comes at the price of armed foreign people in your country who are clueless about what contributes to your survival as a leader and who are pushing you into suicidal policies.

    I have maintained all along that a BSA will not happen. No one, not even Obama and Kerry, wants it outside of the neo-con deep state (I’m thinking there are likely several competing deep state networks of influence and power).

    But Obama and Kerry cannot set up a narrative that they had a policy of walking away from Afghanistan even in the unlikely case that that is both true and the least worst action to take. Whether strongly committed to it or not, they will play the hard line all the way to the end when the last US troop leaves Afghanistan and we see how willing the Afghan people are to be governed by the Taliban once again.

    The situation in Iraq will hang heavy over considerations about Afghanistan.

    Any major troop withdrawal are scheduled after the mid-terms. The resolution of the Afghan election need not occur before the first week in November. And the most politic position of the new President will be to ask the US to withdraw all troops but the normal detachment of Marine Guards at the embassy.

    My suspicion is that for the time being the role of the President in Afghanistan will be as an interface to the outside world with little real internal power. What has to be worked out is how devolved or centralized power will be an who will hold it.

  2. Don Bacon says:

    The first BSA deadline was by May 1, 2013, according to the agreement signed on May 1, 2012.
    In May 2010, in Washington, DC, President Obama and President Karzai committed our two countries to negotiate and conclude a strategic partnership that would provide a framework for our future relationship.
    In November, 2011 an Afghan Loya Jirga declared: “Emphasizing the need to preserve the achievements of the past ten years….when signing this document Afghanistan and the United States must be considered as two sovereign and equal countries.” –Amusing.
    On May 1, 2012, President Obama and President Karzai signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America.
    The agreement includes nine pages of BS about human, economic and democratic development. On page 5 it gets to the heart of why the US is in Afghanistan, commercial ties to Central Asia:

    To enhance regional stability and prosperity, the Parties shall further cooperate in restoring Afghanistan’s historic role as a bridge [think New Silk Road] connecting Central and South Asia and the Middle East by: …..

    The Agreement does not commit the US to anything specific in military matters.

    “…the United States affirms that it shall regard with grave concern any external aggression against Afghanistan. Were this to occur, the Parties shall hold consultations on an urgent basis to develop and implement an appropriate response….”

    Regarding bases:

    “Afghanistan shall provide U.S. forces continued access and use of Afghan facilities …[US] further reaffirms that it does not seek permanent [they are always temporary] military facilities…”

    regarding the BSA, on page 3:

    “The Parties shall . . .initiate negotiations on a Bilateral Security Agreement. . . with the goal on concluding within one year a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede the [2003 two-page note] and other such related agreements and understandings that are mutually determined to be contrary to the provisions of the Bilateral Security Agreement.”

  3. Don Bacon says:

    I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet . . .
    Apr 13, 2002 – Only a two-Page ‘Note’ governs U.S. Military in Afghanistan — The note delves into arcane issues such as customs duties and driver’s licenses. It devotes only a few sentences to “the conduct of ongoing military operations,” giving U.S. troops “a status equivalent to that accorded to the administrative and technical staff” of the U.S. Embassy under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Accordingly, U.S. personnel are immune from criminal prosecution by Afghan authorities, and are immune from civil and administrative jurisdiction except with respect to acts performed outside the course of their duties.
    May 28, 2003- Another exchange of diplomatic notes – regarding status of United States military and civilian personnel of the U.S. Department of Defense present in Afghanistan in connection with cooperative efforts in response to terrorism, humanitarian and civic assistance, military training and exercises, and other activities.
    May 1, 2012, the US and Afghan presidents signed the “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement — Negotiations should begin after the signing of this Strategic Partnership Agreement with the goal of concluding within one year a Bilateral Security Agreement to supersede the ‘Agreement regarding the status of United States Military and Civilian Personnel . . .(2003)’, and other such related agreements and understandings that are mutually determined to be contrary to the provisions of the Bilateral Security Agreement.
    May 8, 2012-By a margin of 63 percent disapproval to 33 percent approval, respondents rejected a description of the deal that will include a US troop presence and billions of dollars in monetary support for Afghan forces in the decade after 2014, according to a Monitor/TIPP poll conducted April 27 to May 4.
    May 26, 2012-U.S. strategic partnership agreement ratified by Afghan Parliament’s lower house
    Jun 3, 2012- Afghanistan’s upper house approved the strategic partnership agreement between Kabul and Washington.
    NOTE: These agreements have never been allowed consideration in the US Congress, unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Jan 11, 2013- President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed on Friday to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces this year, underscoring Obama’s determination to move decisively to wind down the long, unpopular war. They discussed the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. The scope and nature of any possible post-2014 U.S. presence, legal protections for U.S. forces, and security cooperation between the two countries is to be specified in the Bilateral Security Agreement. The U.S. reaffirmed that it does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan.
    Feb 20, 2013-Jirga to Decide on Kabul-Washington Security Pact –
    The Afghan government will consult with a broad cross-section of the country through a jirga to decided whether to ratify the security pact with Washington, the second vice president said Wednesday.
    Apr 18, 2013-President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday said his administration was holding “precise negotiations” with the US over a bilateral security agreement, keeping in mind Afghanistan’s interests and sovereignty.
    Jun 19, 2013-President Karzai suspends BSA talks as U.S. delegation heads to Taliban office in Qatar
    Jun 30, 2013-US wants Afghanistan to finalize security pact within 3 months.
    Jul 1, 2013-BSA Talks Will Begin Once HPC Meets with Taliban: Karzai – With many economic and security related issues still to be discussed, President Karzai said on Sunday that Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) talks with the U.S. will recommence only once peace talks begin between the Taliban and the High Peace Council (HPC).
    Jul 27, 2013-U.S. has to accept Afghan conditions before inking BSA: Official – Chief of staff of President Hamid Karzai’s office has categorically stated that Afghanistan has its conditions for inking security pact known as Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. “Since Afghanistan would pay high price for giving military bases to U.S, the country has its conditions before inking the security pact and one of the conditions is ensuring durable peace and security in our country,”
    Jul 29, 2013-Washington Emphasizes on Signing the BSA by October
    Aug 22, 2013-Karzai’s Jirga to be Held Within Two Months
    Sep 17, 2013-Afghan president says no rush for US security deal
    Oct 2, 2013-BSA Dispute Threatening Post-2014 US Presence in Afghanistan – The signing of the planned the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington, that would let the US forces stay post-2014 in Afghanistan, still remains under serious threat because of disagreement between both the sides. “The US wants the freedom to conduct military operations, night raids and house searches. .According to them, there are 75 Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, which is very strange as this agreement will be for 10 years to have the right to conduct military operations anywhere in the country. Unilaterally having the right to conduct military operations is in no way acceptable for Afghans,” Karzai’s spokesman said.
    Oct 4, 2013-Impasse With Afghanistan Raises Prospect of Total U.S. Withdrawal in 2014
    Oct 7, 2013-The Afghan president has strongly condemned a recent fatal airstrike by the US forces in Afghanistan
    Oct 10, 2013-Afghan officials accuse U.S. of snatching Pakistani Taliban leader from their custody
    Oct 12, 2013-Kerry and Karzai reach partial Afghan security deal – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday that a partial agreement was reached with Afghanistan on a security accord after talks with President Hamid Karzai, however the issue of jurisdiction for American forces still remains unresolved. (US troop immunity unresolved)
    Jan 10, 2014-The US ambassador in Afghanistan, James B Cunningham has said he is doubtful president Hamid Karzai will sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington before elections which is due to be organized earlier in April this year.
    Karzai’s concerns regarding sovereignty:
    –detainees in US custody
    –US prisons in Afghanistan
    –control of Afghan airspace
    –military raids on Afghan villages.
    –unlimited military operations against 75 AQ operatives

  4. bloopie2 says:

    I’m curious as to how/why the words “… but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse” ended up as the finish to this post. The rest of this post is about whether (procedurally) a BSA will take effect, not about whether it should take effect; that’s really a different topic. I would have liked to see a little more emphasis on the point you raise earlier, i.e., “look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately.” Such a result would be a fascinating embodiment of US imperialism, and imho it deserves more play than it has been given (i.e., why can’t you write what I want, not what you want, darn it!)

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Not having a legitimate government in place is nothing new in 18th-century, tribal Afghanistan.

    Anna Badkhen: One thing to keep in mind is that even those Afghans who initially supported the war against the Taliban no longer see it a war of emancipation, and NATO troops as liberators. They see it as another war that threatens their lives and the lives of their kin. They are not interested in Western-style democracy; their lifestyle is traditionally feudal and land-based. They rarely travel far beyond their tribal areas and the nearest market town. They want to live comfortably, they want their children to stop dying of such preventable diseases as dysentery or common cold each year.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    The BSA means nothing because there is no military solution, it must be political.
    Obama, March 25, 2009: “. . .together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region — our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. ”
    Kerry, Aug 1, 2010: “I don’t think [more] troops are the answer. The answer is a political resolution. And that political resolution has to come about by engaging to a greater degree with India, with Pakistan itself. But I think we should also engage China, Russia, and I would say to you that the possibility could exist even of Iran playing a role in helping to change the equation on the ground. . .I think the [US] administration absolutely has to be involved. There is no way for it to work without that. There are complications with President Karzai being involved on his own because you have Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, and others who are greatly concerned.”
    Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “I can report without being specific that there are efforts under way. They are serious, and I completely agree with that fundamental premise — and so does General Petraeus and so does President Obama — there is no military solution,” he told NPR. “And there are very active efforts now to seek an appropriate kind of political settlement.” — Aug 20, 2010
    These were never done, it was all BS. The Taliban was not included in the recent election, and there has been no visible effort toward a regional contact group.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Now if they follow the (totally unsuccessful) Iraq paradigm, it’ll be “heavy lifting” time for Kabul:
    WASHINGTON, July 23, 2014 – Though the United States must protect its people and is helping Iraq to face the threat posed by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, it is up to Iraq to do the heavy lifting, a senior Defense Department official said today.
    Lots of luck on that. The US hasn’t lifted a finger to help Iraq, even with 40,000 US military personnel and part of the Fifth Fleet in the Gulf area which are supposed to be providing “energy security” even while ISIS is taking over Iraq oilfields.

  8. bloopie2 says:

    The US intervention in Afghanistan has not been successful, nor has Iraq, or Libya, or Egypt, or Syria. Is there some place in the Middle East or Near East that the US military can hold up as a “success” story? If not, then WTF are we still doing there?

  9. Don Bacon says:

    news from an eastern democracy:

    Afghanistan’s independent election commission reported nearly 60 percent of the presidential runoff ballot boxes have arrived at its Kabul headquarters for auditing, a spokesman said.

    However, Noor Mohammad Noor admitted Friday that a week after the audit of the 8.1 million votes from last month’s contested presidential runoff, “not a single vote has been invalidated.” He said there were no invalidations because “there is no invalidation procedure in place yet.

    Hey, the use of a rubber stamp making X’s might be a clue.

  10. Don Bacon says:

    Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.
    Jul 25
    Afghan Taliban leader warns against pact with U.S.
    KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The Taliban’s reclusive leader is warning that a bilateral security pact allowing foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting.
    In a blow to hopes for peace talks, Mullah Mohammad Omar said Friday in an emailed message that the Islamic militant movement won’t end its war until the last foreigner leaves.
    The Afghan government has agreed in principle to a security agreement that would allow nearly 10,000 U.S. soldiers to remain in a mainly training and advisory capacity. The deal has yet to be signed, although both candidates vying to replace President Hamid Karzai have promised to do so.
    Mullah Omar says the “presence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war.”

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