Karzai’s Loya Jirga

President Karzai and his government hailed the Loya Jirga, a 2030 strong assemblage of parliamentarians and notables from across the country, as a great success. Certainly it could be deemed a success that the Taliban despite the threats they held out were not able to prevent participation nor were they able to launch any attacks to disrupt the proceedings. It was a success because despite the many questions raised by opposition figures such as Abdullah Abdullah the meeting went forward. It provided an endorsement of the proposals for the conclusion of negotiations with the Americans on what is being termed the “Strategic Partnership Document” that would govern the 10000-20000 American troops that would stay behind in Afghanistan after the completion of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

The Loya Jirga was a gimmick. It was termed a traditional Loya Jirga because the Loya Jirga with binding legal authority is defined in the Afghan constitution as a meeting in which the voting members would be members of the National Assembly and the Presidents of the Provincial and District Councils. Since no elections to the district councils have been held there can be no legal constitutional Loya Jirga. President Karzai knew this and called the Jirga with only one objective in mind-establishing that he still had the political clout to be able to get a roughly representative body of Afghans to endorse what he intended doing. At the conclusion he welcomed the decisions of the Jirga and promised that these would be used as instructions from the Afghan people for the negotiation of the Strategic Partnership. It should be noted that small demonstrations were held in various parts of Afghanistan to protest the proposed agreement with slogans of Death to Karzai and Death to America being raised. Did these demonstrations reflect the public mood or did the small opposition groups that like the Taliban are opposed to a continued American presence orchestrate them?

That apart what does Karzai intend doing with regard to the Loya Jirga “instructions” on the Strategic Partnership Document which could be summarized as follows:

First the Jirga endorsed the proposal that this pact be for no more than 10 years. Second that this should be a binding document i.e. a treaty rather than an executive agreement in American parlance. Third that all detention centres now manned by the Americans be handed over to the Afghans. Fourth that the night raids conducted by the Americans as part of their COIN strategy cease forthwith or be conducted by Afghan troops in the lead. Fifth that there be a binding commitment to subsidise the Afghan Security forces and the Afghan economy – no figures were mentioned in the Jirga statement but since then figures have appeared suggesting that this would amount to $10 billion a year for the next decade. Sixth there was an explicit stipulation that American troops will not use Afghan soil to attack any other country and an implicit condition that American Troops while on Afghan soil will be subject to Afghan law. Seventh that any agreement reached should be approved by the Afghan Parliament.

While Karzai may have secured the endorsement of this “traditional” Loya Jirga for the negotiating strategy he intends adopting as the Afghans and Americans continue their long protracted negotiations on the Partnership document he has done little to gain the flexibility that he will need to bridge the gap between his stance and what the Americans seem prepared to accept.

First the Americans say that they do not visualise the partnership document as a treaty but as an executive agreement presumably because a treaty would require the advice and consent of the Senate. Second they cannot make any long-term commitment of assistance since they are not permitted under their law to bind future administrations (In my view a treaty would solve this problem but for the moment the Americans do not appear to be prepared for this.).

Third the Americans see the night raids, hundreds of which are conducted every month as one of the principal tools of their COIN strategy and so far are not prepared to accept that these be conducted under Afghan leadership. Apart from their belief that the Afghans are not well trained enough to conduct such raids they also suspect, perhaps wrongly, that any Afghan led operations would lead to the targets being warned. Recent incidents of shootings by Afghan soldiers of their Australian and American trainers and mentors seem to suggest that despite what is said to rigorous vetting many Afghan security force recruits are sympathisers of the Taliban.

Fourth the Americans do not appear to be willing to surrender the prisoners they hold to Afghan custody because they do not believe that they will be effectively interrogated. Certainly they have reason to believe that with the right amount of bribery or the right amount of political influence prisoners will be released much more easily when they are in Afghan custody. The other side of the coin, prisoners held by Afghans will be subject to the sort of treatment that will cause grief to civil rights NGOs and give rise to heavy criticism of the US.

Fifth, it would seem that the Americans are currently and will in future use Afghanistan based facilities to carry out drone attacks on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border in Eastern Afghanistan. Currently such attacks may have the tacit consent of the Pakistanis but after the recent deterioration of US-Pak relations this may no longer hold true. Will the American raids stop? Will Karzai in these conditions stand by his earlier assertion that if the USA attacks Pakistan Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan? Will a strategic partnership survive such a rupture?

Sixth according to the Americans, specifically Gen. Allen the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, the role of the American forces after 2014 will be training and mentoring of the Afghan National Security Forces, which includes the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police; providing “enabler” functions such as helicopter transportation, medical treatment, and intelligence gathering (air support including ground attack will probably also be needed); and counterterrorism operations, to be provided by US and allied special operations forces. The latter operation will be conducted by the troops that are part of “Operation Enduring Freedom” and are independent of ISAF. Currently these troops number about 10,000 and largely comprise Special Operation Forces. Perhaps “Operation Enduring Freedom” was independent of the UN sanctioned operation and may be governed by a separate agreement. Will this force, change its mandate which I recall as being to eliminate all terrorists from Afghanistan and will this force be brought under the umbrella of the strategic partnership agreement?

Most importantly how will such an agreement be viewed by Afghanistan’s neighbours? As I said in an earlier article the leaders of Russia and Pakistan had joined together in Dushanbe in September to suggest that “reduction of foreign military presence in Afghanistan should be accompanied by adequate increase of efforts by the participants of the international coalition for training and arming Afghan national security structures,” Will these two countries live with the fact that training not being adequate some foreign troops should stay behind until this deficiency has been made up?

The Russian special representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Kabulov has made it clear that this is not Russia’s position. He suggested that the continued presence of foreign troops would exacerbate the situation. Would this mean that the Russians may respond by blocking the routes across Russia which as part of the Northern Distribution Network now carry some 50% of the non-lethal supplies needed by ISAF forces in Afghanistan? There are other rumours or at least unconfirmed reports that Russia is also suggesting that in return for their provision of transit facilities the American should me more accommodating of Russian concerns on the Missile Defence structures that the US is building in Europe. How will this work out in the larger US-Russia “reset” relationship?

While no Pakistani spokesperson has expressed a view on this subject since the September Dushanbe meeting media reports in Pakistan suggest that the Pakistanis would be unhappy. While I will be writing separately on the US-Pak relationship, the current position seems to suggest that uncertainty and unpredictability will plague the relationship with consequences for the Afghan situation.

The Iranians have made no bones about their opposition to such a presence and their representative at the Bonn Conference reiterated this opposition. The funny or seemingly funny part of this was that President Karzai apparently told Secretary Clinton that he had found the Iranian statement positive and constructive.

In a word, despite the Loya Jirga, agreement on the Strategic Partnership Document and its acceptance by the region appears difficult. Afghanistan may need such an agreement. The USA may feel that without this its self-assigned limited objective – making certain that Afghanistan and the region do not once again become a safe haven for terrorists – cannot be achieved but getting the agreement is not going to be simple.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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