Agreement emerges on US-Afghan security pact
KABUL — After much handwringing and speculation, there appeared to be broad consensus on Saturday by Afghan leaders to endorse a post-2014 international military presence in the country.
Numerous members of the Loya Jirga, the 2,500-person council convened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to pass judgment on a proposed bilateral security agreement with the United States, expressed support for the agreement in a series interviews with Stars and Stripes.
The main point of contention had been an article in the agreement that granted the U.S. legal jurisdiction over its troops accused of committing crimes in Afghanistan — a typical facet of security agreements with countries that host American bases.
While that article dominated debate on Saturday, as members broke into 50 separate discussion committees, by the end of the day there seemed to be broad agreement toallow Americans to maintain jurisdiction over their troops.
Said Wali, a jirga member from the eastern province of Nangarhar, said members of his committee agreed that at this time, Afghanistan still needs foreign troops to assist them with security.
“We brought up the experience of Iraq — they acted selfishly and now they are suffering,” he said, referring to the violence that has engulfed that country since U.S. troops left at the end of 2011, after Iraq rejected a similar immunity agreement.
Barack Obama has said the bilateral security agreement must be signed for the U.S. to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond Dec. 31, 2014, the deadline for the withdrawal of all international combat troops from Afghanistan. If the Afghan government were to reject the agreement, America would almost certainly pull all troops from the country, and the rest of the NATO-led military coalition would almost certainly follow suit.
With the Afghan security forces still heavily reliant on the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force for intelligence, technology and air support, many in Afghanistan worry a full pullout of foreign troops would leave them vulnerable as they take over the day-to-day fighting with a still-entrenched insurgency.
Concerns about instability in Afghanistan after international troops depart has inhibited investment in the country and caused some young educated Afghans to leave the country, political analyst Sayed Ahmad Najeeb Mahmood said.
“Now if (the security accord) is signed, it will decrease the concerns” he said.
Before the meeting, there was controversy surrounding the agreement — 3,000 people chanting “Death to America” gathered in Kabul last week — but on Saturday, many of the jirga members, who came from far-flung regions of Afghanistan, said they agreed that the security pact is needed.
Most discussions took place in classrooms of the Kabul Polytechnic University. Some of the members were long-bearded old men in flowing robes and large turbans, but there were at least as many younger men and women in modern suits and fashionable clothes.
Ali Ahmad Fedayee, a 56-year-old war veteran who lost a leg while fighting against the Soviet Union after that country’s invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1979, said the first part of the Jirga was simply educating members on the details of the security agreement, as there was a lot of confusion.
“In the beginning we just knew it was a security pact with the Americans but we didn’t know the details,” he said.
After going through the document word by word, consensus emerged to support the agreement, Fedayee said.
“It’s good for our future — we are suffering because of our neighbors — our neighbors pushed this fighting on us,” he said. “I lost my leg in the last war and I want my children and all the people of Afghanistan to not suffer like that in the future.”
Shukria Serat Walizada, a jirga member and women’s rights activist, said female delegates were generally in support of the security agreement to preserve fragile gains in women’s rights achieved in Afghanistan since the U.S. military invasion of the country 12 years ago.
“All the women in our committee were supporting the article because we want to improve, not go backwards,” she said.
Karzai worried some in the U.S. recently by saying the security agreement might not be ratified until after the Afghan presidential elections in April, a timeline that U.S. officials say might make it impossible to plan for a post-2014 troops presence. On Saturday, though, jirga delegates said they supported a swift resolution.
“People of the Loya Jirga are of the opinion that it should be signed as soon as possible,” former Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said.