Senior officials tried to assure reporters yesterday that the massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan will have no bearing on a post-2014 security arrangement for the US. And to be clear, it shouldn’t. We should get out regardless of that tragedy.
It appears that the US is negotiating with two heads of state. There’s the Hamid Karzai who publicly lambasted the Americans as “demons,” accuses them of “Satanic acts,” and equates the presence of US forces with the Taliban. Then there’s the Karzai who, behind the scenes, pliantly offers permanent bases to the Americans:
Karzai’s spokesman told Afghanistan’s Tolo Television on Sunday that U.S. and Afghan officials were also still discussing the possibility of having permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan, another highly sensitive issue.
“There are still some ambiguous points that the U.S. needs to clarify to the Afghan government. When those points are clarified, the establishment of U.S. military bases will be agreed by signing a defensive document,” Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi told Tolo.
That document would be separate from the Strategic Partnership Agreement, he added.
Afghanistan is demanding U.S. troops stop all night-time raids on Afghan homes as a precondition of signing any agreement. Faizi said talks on that demand would start soon.
I think Karzai is legitimate on the night raids, but everything else is negotiable. And the outbursts in public bear no resemblance to the state of the negotiations. They do reflect, however, the thoughts of a certain segment of the Afghan people. Karzai wouldn’t be saying them otherwise. He has his political reasons. That’s why he wants the US to hand over control of the country by 2013.
Karzai may be fed up personally with ten years of war, but such trifles as personal beliefs don’t enter into the picture when his power, and even his life, is on the line. Over the near term, the policy of withdrawing US and NATO troops to the major bases in the cities and out of the rural areas serves his continued survival; in the long term, a permanent presence, a king around Kabul, does the same. These opposites are not entirely in conflict; they just exist on a different time horizon. So it’s not contradictory for Karzai to damn the US presence and then give them that presence permanently. Everything has its place in service to Karzai.
The end to night raids, however, appears to be non-negotiable, just as the lack of legal immunity was in Iraq. And just like in Iraq, that could bring the end to the war and the US military presence. For without the raids for “suspected terrorists,” the US has no real role in Afghanistan other than as a staging ground for Pakistan operations. Maybe the military will find the permanent bases as an acceptable substitute.