Just three days before the Loya Jirga begins discussing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), Afghan and U.S. officials told The New York Times the negotiations are in a deadlock over the issue of American unilateral military operations in Afghanistan post-2014.
Afghan officials reported last week that nearly all of the security pact, which outlines U.S. military involvement in the years Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, had been settled between negotiators. However, this week, differences over the right of U.S. forces to conduct raids and searches in Afghan residences proved unresolved.
The terms of U.S. unilateral operations, along with criminal jurisdiction over U.S. troops and the definition of foreign “aggression,” were said to be the most contentious issues during negotiations over the accord. Although the aggression issue was put to rest last week, and the U.S. has expressed its uncompromising stance on having jurisdiction over its troops, the unilateral operations issue remains up-in-the-air.
Previously, it was thought that it was agreed between the two nations that the U.S. would ask permission before launching unilateral operations, primarily relying on Afghan forces instead.
But New York Times’ source inside the Afghan government reportedly said that U.S. officials have maintained their forces will need to have authority to search the homes of Afghans in certain cases. But President Hamid Karzai called than an invasion of privacy and refused to budge on the point.
In a Saturday meeting with U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and the head of U.S. troops in Afghanistan General Joseph Dunford, the Afghan president said he would not change his stance before the Loya Jirga on Thursday.
Afghan government officials refused to comment on the matter when asked by TOLOnews.
Ambassador Cunningham and Gen. Dunford reportedly said on Saturday they would go back to Washington to confer with U.S. officials about Karzai’s demands. Negotiations between officials continued on Monday.
It is unclear whether or not things will be settled satisfactorily before the Jirga proceedings begin at the end of the week.
Either way, the gathering will have four days to review the security pact and provide a recommendation to the National Assembly on whether to approve it or reject it. President Karzai would then ultimately have to sign what Parliament sends to him in order for it to be finalized.
Analysts have cautioned that being too inflexible in negotiations over the BSA could harm Afghanistan’s national interests.
“I think more bargaining could be damaging, because it tires the opposing side,” Afghan political expert Idris Rahmani told TOLOnews. “I think that bargaining wouldn’t pose any harm to the U.S., but it could be really catastrophic to the future of the Afghan people.”
Many have emphasized the uneven footing of Afghanistan and the U.S. when it comes to the security pact, despite Afghan officials attempts to play hardball in negotiations. They highlight the fact that in the U.S. many are hesitant to devote any further resources to Afghanistan after 12 years of war, and that America would be relatively unaffected if it was to sever ties completely. In contrast, the vulnerability of Afghanistan to internal and foreign threats makes continued support from the U.S. and its NATO allies critical.
On the other hand, the U.S.’ persistence in having the right to launch unilateral operations involving the searching of Afghan private residences is likely to add fodder to the arguments of opponents of the BSA. The Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami, both classified as anti-government groups, have condemned the security pact and the Loya Jirga for even putting it on the table as a viable option. They called consenting to a continued role of the U.S. in Afghan affairs, let alone a troop presence post-2014, would be a crime against Afghanistan.