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Afghanistan Exit Strategy: How Bilateral Is the Security Agreement

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For more than a year we have been negotiating the specifics of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the Afghan government. The sticking points in the agreement are the U.S. demands to establish 10 permanent military bases on Afghan soil, immunity from prosecution for American servicemen, and unrestrained night raids and house searches. In return Washington will give economic assistance to the Afghan government.

Afghans are suspicious of Washington's motives in its demands. They know, for instance, that American military bases have a tendency of becoming pretty permanent and when they weigh heavily on the local population, dismantling them becomes impossible because of the vested interests of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Demanding immunity from prosecution infringes upon Afghan sovereignty and undermines the authority of the very constitution Americans 'helped' promulgate as the cornerstone of Afghanistan's 'imported' democracy. Such immunity is likely to contribute to more reckless behavior by U.S. servicemen such as the Panjwai Massacre and the killing for trophies that the Rolling Stone magazine has reported.

Night raids and house searches that are carried out with an utter disregard for cultural sensitivity are not 'winning hearts and minds' either, but represent the heavy-handedness of American imperial outreach that are the primary cause of rising tensions with Afghan civilians.

The hefty price the Afghans are being asked to pay harks back to a time when Afghans ended up at the losing end of a series of unequal treaties they were coerced into signing with Western powers beginning with the 1809 Anglo-Afghan Treaty of Peshawar.

President Karzai obviously doesn't want to be condemned by history's past or by the circumstances of the present public outcry over the humiliating intrusions in their lives by U.S. and NATO forces. Karzai's oft-ignored pleas have at best garnered an apology. Perhaps this is why he showed some uncharacteristic spine and strength and deferred the signing of the agreement to the Loya Jirga or the Grand National Assembly with an unprecedented proviso that the role of the Jirga be advisory and its resolution non-binding.

A Loya Jirga convened in Kabul last November whose members were not popularly elected, but were largely handpicked by the government where the Northern Alliance apparatus holds sway. As the beneficiary of the American presence through the skimming and outsourcing of contracts and the not-so-secret CIA pay, the Northern Alliance, commonly referred to as 'the economic mafia' recommended the signing of the agreement. Not only was there no sense of patriotism and apprehension regarding treaties with foreign powers that Karzai was probably counting on, some delegates were even upset because their districts were denied the privilege of hosting American military bases. In the face of these shenanigans allegations surfaced that some delegates were bribed and coerced to rubberstamp the agreement. Some delegates opposing the agreement protested, but were escorted out of the Jirga.

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Afghan women delegates to the Loya Jirga protesting the agreement are escorted out of the hall. Their banner reads: The Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S. is Tantamount to Treason.

There is no doubt that there were unaffiliated Afghans who genuinely believe that the agreement is vital to the security of Afghanistan. Their opinion may have been swayed by a diversionary tactic playing on their fears of Pakistani and Iranian 'neighborly' interventions after the Soviet troop withdrawal, hoping that the presence of the American bases would prevent such recurrence. This theoretically valid point is refuted by the U.S. indifference to Pakistani military incursions and Iranian political forays in Afghanistan.

When Karzai's gamble didn't pay off with the Jirga, he announced that the agreement would not be signed until after the April 5, 2014 presidential election -- in essence deferring it to his successor. This was followed by a quick visit to Kabul by the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice who by downplaying Afghanistan's strategic importance to the U.S. threatened Karzai with the Zero-Option, i.e. a complete pullout of all U.S. troops that would leave Afghanistan vulnerable. Rice's words were reduced to a bluff when Washington's top brass, Kerry, McCain, and Hagel issued even stronger warnings pressing Karzai to sign the agreement.

Karzai's candor, even if it is to save his skin, throws a wrench in the Afghan presidential election campaign. It is only too obvious that Washington's support of the presidential candidate who promises to sign the BSA has become a winning strategy. Most Afghans are convinced that come April they will be sold down the river by an installed rather than an elected president. Election fraud is not new, but Washington's elbowing in its way through the process guts the form of a democracy that didn't have much substance to begin with.

This paradox has converging roots. Because the distance and remote location of Afghanistan makes the war most profitable for military contractors and war profiteers and because the illusory, but vilified, nature of the enemy makes this an ideal war with dividends in rank and ransom, one understands why the Afghan war has become the longest in U.S. history and why the Pentagon wants to turn it into a perpetual war by insisting on leaving behind a residual force of 12,000 troops.

The Pentagon's aggressive stance jibes well with Washington's long-term goal of establishing American sphere of influence in Central Asia. This is why our civilian and military leaders are pressuring the Afghans in unison to sign the agreement never mind the public consensus both in Afghanistan and in the U.S. that favors a complete secession of operations.

All parties in this conflict including the U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani governments and their battlefield adversaries are complicit in undermining peace. Peace advocates who get in the way of militaristic agenda are frequently eliminated. Detailed accounts of U.S. Special Operations Forces gunning down Taliban fighters who commit to ending their fights against the government have been given by Jeremy Scahill in "Killing Reconciliation" and in "Dirty Wars," much like Robert Greenwald's report on the drone wars across the border in Pakistan. My own analysis of the U.S. military's inherent conflict of interest with peace in Afghanistan supports this argument.

These are clear indications that the U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan still operates on the basis of a military strategy and not a peace plan -- a critical distinction that was either lost on the policy makers in Washington or it was deliberately ignored from the beginning. This genre of American exceptionalism is intent on making more enemies than it can fight.