As President Obama has committed to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the recently signed Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai will implement an 'enduring' strategic partnership that extends a US presence in that country until 2024. A premise for the SPA is that as Islamic extremists find sanctuary within Pakistan borders, a commitment to train Afghan national security forces (ANSF) requires a long term U.S. presence until a strong Afghanistan army and police can defend their own country.
How NATO allies will respond at the upcoming Summit in Chicago to the Agreement's call for extension of the 2014 withdrawal date which the Alliance adopted at its 2010 Lisbon summit remains uncertain. While many NATO nations have indicated an eagerness to depart Afghanistan in 2014 and some have even announced a pre-2014 departure, the Agreement's appeal for a continued Afghan-NATO presence can be expected to agitate the Alliance.
Missing from the signing ceremonies was any reference to the 800-pound gorilla in the room that receives considerably less public attention yet is privately considered to be the most serious, the most intractable problem confronting U.S. foreign policy today. (See Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward.) Once described as a nation of rug merchants, modern Pakistan is better known today as an unstable country with a nuclear weapons arsenal that operates outside the requirements of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.
Described as a 'historic moment" as the U.S. and Afghanistan 'look forward to a future of peace," the SPA is a more comprehensive document than might be expected for a post-2014 transition plan as it commits the US to 'seek annual funding' to provide social and economic assistance 'commensurate with the strategic importance of the US-Afghan partnership."
The Agreement contains a wide range of 'nation building' tasks including cooperation on transit, energy and trade infrastructure projects and pursuit of a 'market economy' to build a "strong financial system needed to sustain private investments" in that beleaguered country. Stamping out Afghanistan's pervasive corruption receives minimal mention offering no real path for success.
Central to the Agreement is an all-inclusive training component critical to the U.S. exit strategy just as the 'surge' in 2009 of 30,000 troops was justified to accelerate the transition of 'security' to the ANSF, thereby freeing American troops to exit the country. Announcement of the 2024 extension is further evidence that the surge which cost $113 billion annually ($8 billion for ANSF) failed to accomplish its stated goal as the war continues to be nothing short of a quagmire. It may seem incongruous to increase U.S. troop levels earlier in order to disengage later but there is, apparently, an odd sort of logic to war strategy rather than to disengage when it becomes undeniably apparent that a war is either not winnable or militarily and economically unsustainable. Yet, as the Obama Administration quickly learned upon taking office, this war does not operate within a vacuum as Afghanistan's proximity to Pakistan's safe havens allow terrorists to freely seek refuge across the border into a nuclear-armed country.
While the Agreement pledges to "not seek permanent military bases" in Afghanistan and to not use Afghanistan as a "launching point" for attacks against other countries, the SPA opens the door for a military campaign to 'eliminate' drug production and trafficking. Providing 74 percent of the world's opium, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that opium production in Afghanistan rose dramatically after the U.S. occupation in 2001 with more poppy cultivation each year (2004 to 2007) than any one year during the Taliban rule. More recently, the UNODC reports a dramatic opium decline in 2010 with 48 percent less production due to a widespread infestation of diseased poppy plants.
Perhaps what will prove to be the most unwieldy and controversial section of the Agreement will be establishing a Bilateral Commission to implement elements of the document including a new Bilateral Security Agreement that will supersede the current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Memorandum of Understanding on Transfer of US Detention Facilities to the Afghan government and the MOU on the Afghanization of Special Operations that includes night raids. The current SOFA in Afghanistan, so controversial in Iraq when U.S. troops were refused immunity, would apply the same standard of Afghan law or allow US military personnel immunity from prosecution. Failure of the U.S. and Iraq governments to reach agreement on SOFA was the predominant reason for withdrawal of US combat troops.
In granting Afghanistan a "major non-NATO ally' status, the Agreement will take effect as soon as the necessary 'internal legal requirements" of each country approves the document. It is fair to assume that if Congress has any role at all, it will accept the SPA in an up-or-down vote without any committee oversight hearings even as the Agreement commits the U.S. to continued massive funding and support through 2024.
The extension of the end game in Afghanistan to 2024 can best be understood in the context of the reality that Pakistan, politically unstable and potentially volatile, referred to as the most dangerous country in the world, represents a global catastrophe waiting to happen. To further complicate an already impossibly complex set of circumstances is Pakistan's 60-year struggle with India whose nuclear tests provided the initiative for Pakistan to pursue the nuclear option.
In 1998, the U.S. applied economic sanctions against both India and Pakistan in response to their nuclear tests and refusal to adhere to the NPT or IAEA safeguards. By 1999, Congress gave President Clinton the authority to ease the sanctions and by 2001, President Bush permanently lifted sanctions as 'not in the national security interests" in exchange for the support of both countries for the Administration's war on terror. The Federation of American Scientists reported that immediately after 9/11, the Pakistan military secured their stash of weapons at various secret locations around the country and in 2009, it had been widely reported that a group of Islamic extremists had approached within 60 miles of the location of one nuclear storage facility before being turned back by the Pakistan army.
A decade later and for all the billions, if not trillions, of dollars spent, death and destruction to thousands of American and Afghan and Iraq citizens, there is never any discussion of the root of terrorism or whether a balanced US policy between Israel and Palestine would be a major step toward defusing terrorist hatred of America.