31 March 2014

With the year winding down, time is running out on the American effort in Afghanistan. Inaugurated over a decade ago, the climate abroad appears dampened with skepticism and the energy for war at home lessens every day. It is worth recalling that President Obama, when faced with Iraq and Afghanistan wars, regarded the latter as a confrontation of necessity. Yet this necessary appointment has come down to a most unfortunate set of circumstances, wherein the Obama administration must rely on a fickle partner to succeed.


The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which stipulates the working relationship between U.S. interests and Afghan security forces after American troops scale back from Afghanistan, awaits the signature of President Hamid Karzai. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the agreement is ready to see implementation in 2014. In fact, last month the Loya Jirga even endorsed the BSA. Considering the Loya Jirga is a national assembly of Afghan elders, it would seem the agreement has nothing but smooth sailing ahead.


Karzai, however, in a bizarre move is signaling a refusal to sign the BSA. It would of course be one thing if he were demonstrating this hard line stance with a stringent political backing in Afghanistan. But the reality is that he seems to be on his own here.


In recent reports Karzai has actually called for certain demands to be met before he signs the agreement. So while he first refused to sign the BSA, he is now making demands across the negotiating table from the Obama administration. If the latest State Department briefings are any indication, then Karzai has completely misread his own bargaining position. The U.S. believes the BSA is finalized and should be signed by December 31st.


Further, the State Department has urged and emphasized that Karzai himself needs to sign the agreement. Though some ambiguity continues to linger after recent remarks made by Secretary Kerry on the matter, the overall position is unwavering. Since Afghanistan will hold its elections in April of next year, the Obama administration insists on having Karzai sign the BSA for clarity’s sake.


With this backdrop in mind, the political implications for America’s future in Afghanistan could be staggering. It has been months now since the Administration shot down any reference to a ‘zero option’ as a viable choice concerning the war effort. But if we head into 2014 without a signed BSA and a more confusing version of Mr. Karzai, then this ‘zero option’ may begin to resurface. Involving a complete and steadfast removal of American troops from Afghanistan, the ramifications of enacting such a protocol would be staggering.


The most obvious and foremost conclusion includes the dangerous scenarios left behind, according to the Obama administration. It is for this reason that U.S. military advisors have made plans to aid and train Afghan security forces after American troops exit the country. Again remembering the distinction made by President Obama between the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, the former involved a more immediate withdrawal while the latter has required a prolonged stay. The White House has maintained all along that an American presence is necessary in Afghanistan, and the ‘zero option’ is thus quite far down on the list of choices, if it appears there at all.


Meanwhile, Karzai is doing everything he can to disrupt the status quo inside the White House. If not, it certainly looks that way. The coming days will be very telling in any case, as the BSA sits on the table anticipating a signature. Several crucial decisions are to be made over the course of those days, and the impact of those choices will add much to the gravity of American foreign policy in 2014.