Year in Review

US-Afghanistan Relations 2013: BSA and Taliban Negotiations

13 Jan, 2014    ·   4249

Athul Athul presents an annual round-up

Athul Athul
Athul Athul
Research Intern

The bilateral security agreement (BSA) and negotiations with the Taliban were the main issues between the US and Afghanistan in 2013. The future of the US-Afghan relationship is heavily reliant on the bilateral agreement and the evolving security situation in the country.

BSA Debate
The BSA is the framework for long-term relations between the US and Afghanistan – it has a life span of ten years. It lays down the future of US aid and governance advice to Afghanistan. This also covers the areas of regional cooperation and security.

The US insists on signing the treaty because without it the US will not be able to keep its residual forces in Afghanistan after 2014. As the bulk of US and NATO troops withdraw, 15,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan for training and counter-terrorism missions. Washington does not want a repetition of Iraq where a security deal could not be made, leading to a total withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. The aftermath of withdrawal was the escalation of sectarian violence and resurgence of the al Qaeda in which nearly 8,000 people were killed in 2013.

Despite initially being cleared by the loya jirga and the primary draft being accepted by Karzai himself, Karzai later refused to sign the agreement due to disagreements on issues such as legal immunity of the US residual forces, the entry of US forces into Afghan homes, conduct of night-time raids as well as the release of Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The US has said that if the BSA is not signed promptly, it would be forced to initiate a plan for post 2014 Afghanistan, which will not involve US presence. This move could adversely affect the security and stability of Afghanistan, as the Afghan National Army (ANA) is still dependent on the US for various aspects of combat capability such as air power and logistical support, even though the ANA has taken over the combat operations from the multi-national forces in 2013. The Afghan security forces have been incurring heavy casualties since taking over the fight, with over 1,100 personnel killed in a span of six months.

Presently the NATO forces are involved only in the training of the Afghan army and law enforcement personnel. The ANA is completely dependent on the US for air support since Afghanistan is unlikely to have a functional air force before 2017. Karzai has not signed the security deal for many reasons. According to some experts, Karzai is concerned about his relevance in Afghan politics after 2014 and his desire to be remembered as a strong leader necessitates that he is favoured among the Pashtuns. Domestic political gain is Karzai’s main motivation for not signing the BSA - Karzai does not want to be seen as a president who did not stand up to the US demands.

Negotiations with the Taliban
Although the US-Taliban talks were mediated by Qatar, the talks soon fell through primarily due to the Taliban not agreeing to a deal which would keep guerrilla commanders released from Guantanamo under Qatari supervision in Doha.

The Afghan government broke the talks with the Taliban as the Taliban tried to use the office in Qatar as an alternative embassy and flew the old Taliban flag. President Karzai stated that he would not pursue peace talks with the Taliban as they were using their Doha office as a parallel political entity. He also took issue with the Taliban’s use of the name, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Currently, the Afghan government is seeking US help in negotiating with the Taliban. Karzai has stated that American help in restarting the peace process is a condition for the security pact.

Both the government of Afghanistan as well as the US have to work jointly in order to bring stability and security to the country. If both parties work in isolation, it would not bear fruit, and may result in the further deterioration of diplomatic relations and security conditions. Afghan political stability has always had a resonating effect on the security situation in South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia. Both Washington and Kabul have to realise the importance of Afghanistan’s internal problems to the regional security.