Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Afghan President Karzai welcomes President Obama , NSA Chief Susan Rice , Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador James Cunningham to the Afghan Bazaar.....Karzai latest demands for signing the US's hotly sought after Bilateral Security Agreement . include - termination of the US military raids of Afghan homes, release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, commencement of immediate peace talks by the US with the Taliban, inclusion of Bamyan in the list of the US-NATO military bases, and firm US assurance of non-interference in the forthcoming Afghan presidential election on April 5. High stakes poker being played as Karzai bets he can re-deal the cards and DC will take it or else.


( I would expect such a bypass tactic  to backfire spectacularly - but it does underline how desperately the US wants to stay in Afghanistan ... )

US Seeks to ‘Bypass’ Karzai on Afghan Troop Deal

by Jason Ditz, November 27, 2013
With Afghan President Hamid Karzai calling for the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to wait until after the April elections, the Obama Administration is said to be considering “bypassing” him outright.
But is that even possible ? Officials say it’s not clear. Theoretically the deal could be completed without the signatures of the heads of state, but that would mean delegating that authority to the legislature.
Which would mean actually letting the US Senate debate the BSA, which would extend the US occupation through 2024 and beyond. President Obama has tried to avoid bringing it before Congress by arguing this is an Executive Agreement, not a treaty. Failing to get the signature of the Afghan executive would ruin that argument.
The US has threatened to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 in the pact isn’t signed by Karzai before the end of December. Afghan officials have said they don’t take that threat seriously and Karzai wants more concessions before signing the deal.


A windfall Afghan exit strategy for Obama

The tough-talking, no-nonsense US National Security Advisor Susan Rice met her match at the presidential palace in Kabul Monday evening over a “working dinner”. One would have loved to be a fly on the wall. But there was no need, because no sooner than the pomegranates and grapes were eaten after the rich meal of pilav and kebabs and Rice reported back to Washington her conversation with President Hamid Karzai, which lasted several hours, the White house released a curtly wordedreadout on what transpired. 

In sum, the readout makes it clear that President Barack Obama expects Karzai to back off from his pre-conditions for signing the status of forces agreement (known as the Bilateral Security Agreement or BSA.) 

Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi, who was present at the dinner, later went public with a candid media briefing. He disclosed that there were heated exchanges.  Faizi said the American ambassador James Cunningham “made the President very angry; his reaction was strong and intense.” 

The argument arose over Karzai’s new precondition that the Obama administration should release all the Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (estimated to number 20 Taliban leaders). Cunningham tried to explain that the US domestic laws prevail over Guantanamo prisoners. 

Hmmm. Faizi added that Karzai’s strongest language was reserved for another exchange with Rice herself when he pressed that American counterterrorism raids on Afghan private homes should forthwith cease (which are the sole combat activity undertaken nowadays by American troops with the drones silently bearing the main burden of the war). 

Faizi said, ” The president insisted on the stance; a total ban on home raids since yesterday. He assured Madame Rice they will get the BSA signed — you will get a BSA signed, but give the Afghan people the time to see that the US has changed its behavior, that home raids are banned in practical terms.”

From the White House readout, it appears that a point of no return is reaching. Karzai wanted Rice to report to Obama and then come back to him for more talks, but the readout doesn’t leave the door open. Indeed, the wording suggests Rice was in her elements too — even underscoring that Karzai was out of touch with the “overwhelming and moving support” that the Afghan people have voiced for the BSA.

Most important, Rice imposed an ultimatum that “without a prompt signature” by Karzai on the dotted line on the BSA document, Obama “would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.” Put differently, Obama would exercise the so-called “zero option.” But Karzai didn’t budge. The readout says, “In response, President Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly.”  

The intriguing thing is that the readout leaves no escape hatch for Karzai, either. That, in turn, holds the dicey potential that an eyeball-to-eyeball may ensue between Obama and Karzai — unless state secretary John Kerry makes yet another quick dash to Kabul. But then, once bitten, twice shy. Arguably, Obama would sense the danger that all this is foreplay and Karzai could be preparing to do a “Nouri al-Maliki” on him — and that is something he can ill-afford in the Washington political circuit today. 

What matters critically, however, is Karzai’s calculus. Certainly, his last-minute announcement that he would leave it to his successor to sign the BSA took the US by surprise, as admitted, here, by none other than the US special representative James Dobbins over the weekend. That is to say, Karzai would have anticipated Rice would probably come with the diktat, ‘Sign, or else.’ (By the way, the visit was at Karzai’s invitation.) 
So, he presumably kept a wish list of “preconditions”  for signing the BSA– termination of the US military raids of Afghan homes, release of Guantanamo Bay detainees, commencement of immediate peace talks by the US with the Taliban, inclusion of Bamyan in the list of the US-NATO military bases, and firm US assurance of non-interference in the forthcoming Afghan presidential election on April 5. 

Karzai apparently told Rice that Washington can’t cherry pick — it is either all, or nothing. One way of looking at the bizarre setting is that Karzai resorted to the Afghan bazaar instinct of striking a deal after a terrific spell of bargaining. But then, Rice has never been to the Afghan bazaar. 

Where does that leave things? Indeed, Karzai is a mercurial personality and may yet blink. But it is becoming increasingly improbable by the hour, because it is just not manly to be seen in the bazaar as being browbeaten by an alien — and a lady at that. It won’t do good to his image and legacy. Karzai is a blue-blooded aristocrat — and a Popalzai. 

To be sure, there are some missing links here. What emerges is that after agonizing over the issues for days — perhaps, sleepless nights, too — Karzai deep down feels uncomfortable with the prospect of being seen by the Pashtuns as the American puppet who facilitated the long term occupation of his country. 

Woven into this is also the mortal fear that once he signs the BSA, Americans being Americans, they may leave him to the wolves. Karzai would know the US is determined to have a new president in Kabul who is malleable, which means the US embassy in the Afghan capital is sure to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming election. 
Whereas, although he would cease to be the president, Karzai hopes to remain a “stakeholder” in any new political dispensation that replaces him. Simply put, that’s the way things always worked in Kabul. That’s the logic of power transitions in Afghanistan — which is why there have seldom been any peaceful “transition” of power in the country’s history. 

Suffice to say, there is a fundamental divergence in the objectives that Obama and Karzai are pursuing, which is difficult to bridge, especially  when the White House is inundated with problems and crises — Iran and the Jewish lobby, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Saudi princes, the inscrutable Chinese Dream, Geneva 2 on Syria in mid-January, Libya descending into anarchic civil war at Europe’s doorsteps, the tough generals on the Nile, and so on. 

Of course, if Obama in the audacity of hope ever really harbored a secret wish for an Iraq-like “zero-option” in Afghanistan, this is the moment to grab it. Karzai is offering him an exit strategy.  


Karzai throws cold water on US-Afghan pact
By Frud Bezhan

Just when it appeared that a contentious security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States was all wrapped up, it hit yet another snag.

The Loya Jirga, a traditional gathering of Afghan elders tasked with deciding whether US troops will be allowed to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, approved the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) after four days of debate.

That endorsement was supposed to clear the last major hurdle for the agreement to be ratified by parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai.

But the outgoing president, who in turning to the Loya Jirga to determine the people's will had vowed to abide by itsrecommendation, surprisingly threw cold water on the deal. 

Karzai essentially ignored the Loya Jirga's recommendation to sign the deal by the end of the year. Instead, the president laid out a new set of conditions that he said Washington must fulfill before he signs on.

Waliullah Rahmani, the director of the Kabul-based Center for Strategic Studies, says the deal is still expected to go through. But in keeping with the erratic nature of the protracted negotiations between the two sides, he says, it's a case of one step forward, one step back.

"We are in a really unclear situation right now from the Afghan side," Rahmani says. "It is President Karzai who has the final say on the BSA so it makes the situation more risky. Politics in Afghanistan is not really transparent and it is unpredictable. So we don't know what's going to happen next."

Karzai, speaking at the conclusion of the gathering on November 24, argued that Afghanistan needs more time to ensure that the United States is committed to peace and stability in the country.

"We want security, peace, and we want a proper election," he said, speaking about presidential polls set for April. "You have asked me that I should sign it within a month. Do you think that peace will come within a month?"

Karzai - who has been Afghanistan's dominant political figure since the US-led invasion in 2001 and has served as president since a Loya Jirga made him an interim president in 2002 - made clear that his legacy was at stake.

"If I sign it and peace does not come, who will be blamed for it by history?" he asked the 2,500 or so delegates at the Loya Jirga. "If I sign it today and tomorrow we don't have peace, who would be blamed by history? So that is why I am asking for guarantees."

Karzai did not give an explicit timeline, but he has previously said he could delay his signing of the agreement until after the April election that will determine his successor. Such a scenario would exasperate Washington, which wants a deal sealed by the end of this year.

Rahmani, however, says the delay suits the interests of Karzai, who he believes is trying to win as many concessions as he can from Washington while still in power.

In his address to the gathering, Karzai made reference to several guarantees he has sought from Washington.

Karzai wants a US pledge that it will not interfere in the upcoming election. After the 2009 election, which was marred by massive voter fraud, Karzai accused Washington of meddling. Karzai eventually won reelection that year, but only after his rival Abdullah Abdullah curiously stepped down on the eve of the second round of voting.

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research organization in Kabul, suggests that Karzai could be trying to gain leverage ahead of the election.

Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking another term in office. But his brother, Qayum Karzai, is running.

"Karzai is afraid the Americans will [meddle] in the election against his interests," Ruttig says. "Partly, he has a point. The Americans have [meddled] in elections in Afghanistan earlier on" - mainly in Karzai's favor, according to Ruttig, although Washington has dismissed such accusations. "Karzai has not forgotten that the Obama team, during its first election campaign [in 2008], openly spoke about having Karzai replaced."

Karzai also appears to have backtracked on a recent agreement with Washington over controversial US raids on Afghan homes. 

US President Barack Obama sent a letter to Karzai on November 20 reassuring him that US forces would only raid Afghan properties under "extraordinary" circumstances.

Karzai initially appeared to be satisfied with Obama's pledge, but on the final day of the Loya Jirga the Afghan president declared that any US raids on Afghan homes would result in a nullification of the security agreement.

And in another turn, the Afghan president sought US "cooperation" regarding Kabul's fledgling peace process with the Taliban.

Karzai has previously indicated he wants Washington to pressure Pakistan into supporting an Afghan-led peace process. The Taliban has thus far refused to talk to Kabul, and a US-backed Taliban office in Qatar intended to facilitate peace talks was shut down after protests from Karzai.

Ruttig says Karzai might be trying to force Washington's hand.

"Apparently, Karzai assumes that the Americans continue talking to the Taliban. From that, he draws the conclusion that they should help him start his own talks with the Taliban before the elections," Ruttig says. "He wants to delay his signature of the agreement until he sees whether the Americans are delivering on that or not."