Kerry’s Surprise Visit to Afghanistan Yields Draft Agreement

A tentative agreement would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Negotiations over an agreement for some American forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 have been stalled for some time but an unannounced visit to Kabul by Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have yielded some progress — and a draft agreement.

Among the major differences holding up the negotiations for a Bilateral Security Agreement are longstanding Afghan demands for greater control and better access to American intelligence as well as the stipulation that remaining forces not be subject to Afghan law. Additionally, Afghan are concerned that the agreement lacks a security guarantee to protect the country from Pakistan while permitting the United States to conduct unilateral operations in Afghanistan.

As with the repeated breakdown of peace talks with the Taliban, the major issues stalling the talks all relate to sovereignty, legitimacy and jurisdiction as well as the well deserved Afghan assumption of Western abandonment.

The draft agreement, announced Saturday after two days of private talks between Kerry and Afghan president Hamid Karzai, provides for American troops to remain in Afghanistan on training and counterterrorism missions after the end of NATO operations in 2014. Agreement on the Afghan side hinges on responding to American demands for legal jurisdiction over all remaining forces. This question will be addressed by an Afghan tribal consultation body to be convened next month and then must be approved by parliament.

The Obama Administration considers the BSA an executive agreement, rather than a treaty, removing the need for Senate approval at home.

It appears that another of the major sticking points, unilateral American operations, is addressed in the draft deal to Karzai’s satisfaction. This issue rose to the surface as a result of a successful American mission this month to detain a Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who had reportedly been in the custody of Afghan intelligence at the time.

“We should be confident after signing the [agreement] that such incidents will not happen again,” Karzai said.

The Afghan president failed, however, to win security guarantees aimed at deterring undue interference and responding to attacks from Pakistan. It is a strong American interest to avoid any agreement which could drag the country back into a war in the region.

A signed and sealed BSA would come as a great relief to many in Afghanistan, especially members of security forces, who depend on American funding and supplies. While international forces have been a vital part of stabilizing the country, they have also been a severe political irritation through thirteen years of war. But the financial support which comes with the presence of foreign troops is vital to Afghanistan’s stalled economy.

Although the fate of the agreement has been passed to the tribal council and parliament, its success will either mark to mar Karzai’s legacy as president. He is scheduled to leave office in April 2014. So far, nearly thirty candidates have stepped forward to participate in next year’s critical presidential election.