Catherine Shakdam's Blog

Forging ahead, President Karzai stirs Afghanistan away from Washington’ shadow

February 28, 2014

As American security analysts and officials continue to ring the alarm on US President Barack Obama’s plan to military withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, a Pentagon-sponsored review made clear that a pull-out will in essence equate to handing the war-torn and battered nation back into the hands of the Taliban, or worse, Al Qaeda.

If Washington has long planned to tactically withdraw from Afghanistan as to reduce its military exposure and prevent a thinning out of its tactical resources in the region as well as lose political support at home, on what has become a subject of contention amid the American people – many have felt disengaged with the White House over its foreign policy and officials insistence to use the military over diplomacy – it never intended to simply turn its back on over a decade long political, military and geo-tactical investment, not without leaving behind some form of a footprint. The US’ disengagement from Afghanistan was always understood within the parameters of a Bilateral Security Agreement, by which the US would leave behind a small military contingent and in exchange continue to finance Afghanistan ANA and ANP – respectively Afghan National Army, and Afghan National Police –

Only Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, a man who was groomed to power by Washington for his moderate qualities and western sensitivities, seems no longer interested in an alliance with the US, rather he wants to look inwards for support.

Once a staunch American ally against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, President Karzai categorically refused to bow to US pressure in regards to the Bilateral Security Agreement, arguing that his successor at the presidency should be left to sign it, thus avoiding a frontal collision with the White House.


Washington warns of pending collapse


Nonpartisan think tank CAN - Center for Naval Analysis - which released the findings of its 2012 study on Afghanistan to the public earlier this month, argues that without America’ military and financial support Afghanistan will be unable to oppose the rise of the Taliban insurgency movement, leaving the country open to radical Islam.

The CNA team said it estimated the increased Taliban insurgency will require a military presence on the ground several tens of thousands of men strong at a cost of $4.1 billion per year. Since the US made clear that it would not sustain its military aid package to Afghanistan should Kabul choose not to sign the US Bilateral Security Agreement, NATO finds itself at a difficult fork in the road.

In view of its findings and deductions, CNA advised the United States to keep both international military advisers and troops in Afghanistan, until “at least 2018”. The report read, “Our analysis suggests that the absence of these advisers has the potential to undermine the Afghan National Security Forces' combat effectiveness over the timeframe of this study, thereby imparting additional risk to the U.S. policy goal for Afghanistan.”

Commenting on the report, US Defense Department Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby stressed that both the White House and NATO remain above all else committed to improving security in Afghanistan as a matter of principle and political continuity. “One of the reasons why the alliance is interested in the Resolute Support mission post-2014 is to help improve the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces. It's a commitment we've made long ago. It's a commitment we're trying to make now on the ground in Afghanistan to improve their capacity and capability," Kirby told reporters at a press briefing last Thursday.

But while US experts might indeed have a point by highlighting the dangers which Kabul will face should a financial and military vacuum form upon the departure of all NATO troops from Afghanistan, the country’ salvation might lie beyond western influences.


Karzais’ alternative


If President Karzai has so keenly avoided linking Afghanistan’s immediate future to the US by refusing all bilateral military or security agreement past 2014 NATO mandate, it is essentially because he wishes to work on positioning Kabul back onto the regional power map by strengthening bilateral ties with his neighbours and secure stability through regional support.

Rather than continue to antagonize the Afghan people by appearing a pawn for western powers, most directly the United States of America, President Karzai wants to ensure that his political legacy will be remembered in terms of regional cooperation and not colonial submission. But beyond a need to redefine his political footprint by promoting national interests over international interests, President Karzai could have sense that the Taliban’s narrative has been almost exclusively born from Kabul’s apparent allegiance to America’s evil. Rather than fight Islamic radicals head on, Karzai is looking to defuse tensions by reeling the Taliban back into mainstream politics, de facto cutting the wind off its sails.

If Afghan officials are to be believed, Kabul has already engaged the Taliban, looking to broker a political agreement with the group ahead of 2014 military withdrawal. As per reported by the Afghan government , a delegation of President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council travelled to the UAE earlier in February to discuss political cooperation with the Taliban leadership. And while such a deal will inevitably be slowed down by Pakistan as it does not meet its immediate security interests, an avenue has been opened up in between Kabul and the Taliban.

For the past months, President Karzai has extensively worked to further bilateral cooperation  with India, Pakistan and most importantly, Iran, determined as he is to create a network of economic, military and political alliances which will counteract any insurgency movement in Afghanistan; a move many experts have said could be prove far more effective than Washington’s military contingency plan.

No more than NATO wants to see Afghanistan fall against the Taliban and revert to its pre-2001 failed state status; regional powers are too, rooting for a politically and economically sound Afghanistan.

A fine prize in terms of untapped natural resources and vast arable lands, Afghanistan has much to offer his regional partners, notwithstanding its key geo-political standing in the region.

According to an American study conducted in 2010, Afghanistan hides within its belly trillions of dollars’ worth in mineral and energy resources. In 2013, President Karzai estimated Afghanistan’s mining and energy potential at $30 trillion; enough reasons to attract regional partners and generate support to jump-start the country’s ailing economy.

Afghanistan’s political surroundings have dramatically changed in the past decade; both India and Iran have emerged as regional super-powers with growing political traction, the United States of America no longer holds all the cards. It is likely Iran, India, Pakistan and to an extent China will step up upon NATO’s withdrawal and fill the void left by US funding.




Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
For business
For researchers
For students