The U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are currently negotiating what they call a bilateral security agreement to sketch out the framework for U.S. operations in the country after the end of 2014, when Washington said it would withdraw some or all of its troops. The tensions surrounding these talks reflect the complexity of the situation for the occupiers and their lack of good options.
President Barack Obama wants the Afghan government to sign an agreement that allows the U.S. to legally do whatever it wants in Afghanistan in the future, to carry out any military operations against anyone independently and without the knowledge of the Afghan government. At the same time, if American troops commit any crimes, even the massacre of sleeping villagers or the drone killing of people who are clearly civilians, to name a few recent notorious incidents, they would be legally immune from prosecution by the Afghan authorities. This is the situation now and keeping it this way, which amounts to legalizing the U.S.’s status as an occupying power, is something that the U.S. will not willingly give up. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, said during his recent visit to Kabul, “If the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then, unfortunately, there cannot be a bilateral security agreement.” (New York Times, October 12, 2013)
So far Karzai has refused to sign it, and is looking for a way to justify his action when he does. Even this small gesture has angered the empire, and the U.S. has threatened that if he does not, it will withdraw all its soldiers—”the zero option”, as their strategists call it. Karzai, in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight broadcast on 7 October on the eve of meeting with Kerry, reiterated his position and criticized the NATO forces. He said that there should be a common understanding of the term “invader”: he meant that Pakistan should be defined as an invader and NATO should target “terrorists’ safe havens in Pakistan” instead of hitting “Afghan villages and harming the Afghan people.”
It is ironic and a self-exposure that the U.S., which claims to be occupying the country to defend Afghanistan’s own best interests, has refused to agree to Karzai’s demand that it commit to defend Afghanistan in case of its being attacked by another country and give it the kind of security guarantees it gives its NATO allies. This shows that the relationship is not one of allies but of a master and his subordinate. Like the immunity clause for American soldiers, this, too, illustrates U.S. insistence that any agreement with Afghanistan must clearly and plainly put U.S. interests first. Washington may be unhappy with Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, but there is no way that the U.S. will drop this strategic ally just to make Karzai look better in the eyes of the Afghan people, who have suffered under Pakistani interference for so long (including the fact that Pakistan brought the Taliban to power in the first place and has always been in connivance with Afghan Islamist forces to shore up Pakistan’s regional influence).
Karzai says that he is “not happy with partial security” (against the Taliban) but wants “absolute security” (against Pakistan incursion and influence) to wage “a clear-cut war against terrorism.” He said, “The NATO exercise was the one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains because the country is not secure.” (bbc.co.uk/news/world-24433433)
Karzai is resisting because he pretends to be concerned about the sovereignty of the country.
The question is, are these differences real or are both sides just making them up to save face? While some media commentators are taking these differences very seriously, there are other people who cannot believe there might be some differences. What seems to most correctly reflect reality is that there is an aspect of truth in both cases.
First of all, Karzai’s talk about Afghan sovereignty is absurd on the face of it. He was literally brought to the country by the occupiers after they appointed him to be their president of Afghanistan. Despite the elections since then, he is the head of a government that was installed by the NATO powers in a country that continues to be under occupation. It is unlikely that even his electoral “victory” could have happened without the occupiers’ approval. It is no secret that the U.S. provides Karzai’s own personal security. His existence and the existence of his regime over the past 12 years has depended on the U.S. occupiers and it is likely that that will continue to be the case.
It is said that around 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget comes from the U.S. and other “donor” countries that in some way support the Karzai regime. This is the result of the “reconstruction” that the imperialists promised when they invaded—they have built a country entirely dependent on their “aid.” It’s ridiculous for Karzai to use the word “sovereignty” when his regime is militarily, economically and even politically dependent and can hardly survive without imperialist backing.
Is the U.S. Serious About Pulling Out All Its Forces?
Consequently, in threatening to pull out all its forces, Obama’s government knows that it is threatening the Karzai regime itself. This, too, is an exposure of Karzai’s nature, and of the U.S.’s as well.
But apart from threatening Karzai, the U.S. occupation does face serious problems after 12 years of wars around the world, starting with the invasion of Afghanistan. Above all, they turned out to be very wrong in thinking that they could win this war easily on their way to conquering Iraq. It seems that the U.S ruling class is in agreement on the need to draw down its forces to ten or some tens of thousands in 2014 and give the Afghan Army more responsibility, just as they tried to “Vietnamize” the war in Vietnam. They want Afghan soldiers to do their killing and dying for them.
But “drawing down” or even going for the “zero option” doesn’t necessarily mean that the U.S. is admitting defeat or giving up trying to reach its goals in Afghanistan and the region. Some people compare the U.S.’s situation in Afghanistan with that of the Soviets in the late 1980s, or the U.S. in Vietnam. There might be some parallels but the international situation is far different. In fact the U.S. is not in a situation where it must and can disengage militarily. It wants to keep as few as possible forces while seeking to dominate the country at a lower cost. At the moment, it seems they have come up with what they consider an optimal number at about ten thousand troops.
The U.S. and its allies are taking advantage of the absence of revolutionary forces and they do not have to be concerned about a rival imperialist bloc or the role and influence of China when it was still revolutionary, as the U.S. was by the time of the end of the Vietnam war, and the USSR at the time of its pull-out. The regimes that support the Taliban, such as Pakistan and Qatar, have their own interests but they cannot fully confront the U.S., and in fact are ultimately dependent on alliances with it, and in that sense client states.
Given all this, it is unlikely that the U.S. is serious about abandoning Afghanistan after 12 years of a brutally reactionary war. Some argue that the U.S.’s priorities have changed, so that it is turning its attention from Afghanistan to other parts of the world such as North Africa or China. Whatever the priorities of the U.S. might be, that doesn’t mean they will abandon Afghanistan or any other part of the world unless they are forced to. Control of Afghanistan has been a key to regional dominance for at least the last two centuries, and it continues to have strategic importance amid today’s big-power rivalry.
However, given the overall situation of the U.S. and the world, such as the economic crisis and the disastrous results of the U.S.’s post 9/11 wars, the U.S. imperialists seem to be trying to better calculate where and when they send in their troops and how best to use their military power. This seems to be reflected in the U.S.’s recent approach to Syria and also in the views of some indisputably die-hard imperialist elements. For example, referring to Syria, former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said, according to Der Spiegel, that “the president has drawn the right conclusions from past mistakes and has recognized that America’s military campaigns have not achieved the desired results. ‘Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?’ Gates asks.” (Der Spiegel, September 30, 2013)
But the surprise comes when even Donald Rumsfeld expresses more or less the same views regarding the Congress’s position on military action against Syria: “Every country should be tired of going to war. War is a terrible thing, but that is the reason why a leader should be careful about drawing red lines. If I had been in Congress, as much as I would be inclined naturally to be supportive of a president, any president, I would have voted no, had the issue come to a vote.” (Der Spiegel September 16, 2013)
Hardly anyone would believe that these people have become anti-war activists after the brutal wars they led. They will not hesitate for a moment to launch another war against anyone who would cross their “red lines”, but they have to be “careful” about when and where to draw them.
To conclude this point, the U.S. might want to reduce its military involvement and reduce costs as much as possible, but that is far from meaning that it will “abandon” Afghanistan to its people or anyone else. Karzai can only hope that it won’t abandon him. In fact, it is planning to reduce its troop levels and involvement in military operations while leading the Afghan government armed forces that they have done so much to build up and shape.
The fact is that the situation is getting increasingly complicated for the U.S. and other occupiers. Although their reactionary efforts have had unintended consequences, they cannot simply let the situation fall apart, but at the same time they seem to consider that they do not have the financial, military and political freedom to continue at the same level indefinitely.
The differences between the Karzai and Obama administrations have a history. The U.S. has attempted to replace him with someone else, but it came up with no better option. The corruption of the Afghan regime originates from its nature and its relation with the imperialist powers and not any individual’s greed. So the tension between the U.S. and its own man indicates just how much the situation in Afghanistan is a mess from the point of view of their interests.
But at the end of the day Obama and Karzai need each other and may well embrace each other and find a way to resolve their problem. Karzai has announced that he is organizing a Loya Jirga (a traditional gathering of elders and powerful peoples) next month to take up the bilateral security agreement. With that endorsement, Karzai can claim that it was not he but a “wider representative body” that made the decision.
Karzai intends to make a gesture as though he opposed the U.S. due to his concern for the sovereignty of Afghanistan, and at the same time is trying to organize the best conditions for signing a very shameful and humiliating agreement without taking personal responsibility. He probably thinks he is a very clever guy!
The Future of the War
The U.S. and Afghan governments are also making a big deal about the election to be held in the spring of next year. Whoever the imperialist and reactionary forces that rule Afghanistan come up with in the coming election might make a difference for inter-reactionary relations but will not represent a basic change in Afghanistan—it will not much affect the people’s situation.
Another aspect of the situation that the imperialists and other reactionary forces are concerned about is the capability of the Afghan army to wage war against the Taliban in the long term. However the main thing the U.S. and Afghan governments are counting on is to negotiate with the Taliban and cut a deal with them as soon as possible. (See awtwns130909.)
A quick look at the war during the last year when the Afghan army took up responsibility for the bulk of the fighting gives a rough idea of future prospects. In the last fighting season it made no gains against the Taliban, and, worse, suffered heavy losses, at a rate that according to experts would not be sustainable. In 2012 the Afghan army lost nearly 3,000 officers and soldiers. This year, according to experts, the losses have been at least twice as high. Also, desertions and resignations from the army continue to be high as well. (30 percent last year and this year) In the long term, even the Afghan army may be able to handle the northern part of the country but there is doubt that they can control the southern and eastern part, especially the countryside.
As was discussed in the previously-cited A World To Win News Service article, basing itself on Pashtun chauvinism, the Sunni religion and strong anti-womanism, the Taliban’s own nature makes it difficult for them to rule over the Afghan people as a whole, despite their appeal to backward ideas among the people, because of the ethnic and religious structure of Afghanistan. They are widely perceived as a brutal and despotic force. The limitations of the Taliban as well as the limitations of the occupiers and their installed regime are factors in the current stalemate. Faced with this situation, all the forces involved are looking to negotiations for a deal to include the Taliban in the regime. However that is not likely to be an easy or smooth process either, and cutting a deal may or may not be possible right now.
In any case, both sides are continuing to stomp on the people’s interests. As Karzai put it in his interview with BBC Newsnight, his “priority is making peace with the Taliban” and everything else is going through that, regardless of people’s interest such as women’s rights or whether it is seen as a gesture of anti-Americanism.
The occupiers are trying to continue their domination over an oppressed people, continuing to kill and murder and imprison them. They will continue to insult and trample on the masses’ basic rights for their global and regional interests. The Afghan regime and the Islamist opposition have entered into reactionary international alliances (Karzai with the U.S., the Islamists with Pakistan) because of their own reactionary nature. They give proof of what they represent as they have made the people’s life a hell over the last three decades. Revolutionary change will have to rely on the people alone.