Karzai’s last-minute game with the Americans
Iranian Diplomacy’s interview with Pirmohammad Mollazehi, an expert on Afghan affairs
- The security agreement between Afghanistan and the US is still in a coma state. Why is there a delay in signing this part of the strategic pact?
- A part of the strategic pact which was adopted between the US and Afghanistan was the issue of the security agreement. At that time, due to the serious protests of the Afghan intellectuals and among the people and even the countries of the region, there were discussions about not signing this agreement. Therefore, Afghanistan and the US decided to postpone it to a later time when the conditions were more suitable and then the security agreement which is part of this strategic pact could be signed. Right now the issue is that Hamed Karzai has set certain conditions for this agreement and on the other hand, the Americans attempt to sign this agreement before the presidential elections and prefer to impose this agreement on Karzai whose position is weaker now.
- What is the main objective of the US with this agreement? What have the major obstacles been until now?
- The main objective of the US is for the US and member countries of NATO to take out a major part of their forces from Afghanistan in 2014 and based on Obama’s plan. But the problem is that the Americans do not intend to completely leave this country and they have rather proposed to build 9 military bases in different regions of Afghanistan and maintain a part of their forces in these safe bases. This is the main issue with regard to these two countries and their relations. Also, Afghanistan seeks to be able to try any American soldier who might commit a crime in Afghanistan in Afghanistan’s tribunals, but the Americans believe that this would be impossible because it is against the constitution of this country. The US experience in different parts of the world shows that they have not accepted such a demand in any country that they have had military agreement with and they have somehow imposed to the host country that they do not recognize the competency of the local courts with regard to crimes committed by Americans. This is the main problem and public opinion in Afghanistan believes that this measure violates the national pride of Afghanistan legally which is based on capitulation which since long has been abolished.
- To what extent would the Americans have open hands with regard to political and military interference in Afghanistan?
- The experience of other countries wherein US military forces are stationed, such as Japan, South Korea and in the past the Philippines and the former Germany shows that the extent of the interference and influence of the Americans depends on the resistance of these countries against the demands of the Americans. With regard to Afghanistan, it must be said that this country is not in a position to show its national power and the presence and influence of the Americans will be more than other countries. For example, a comparison with Japan shows that Japan is an economic power and is able to limit the influence of the Americans. But this cannot be expected of Afghanistan because this country is in a weak position and, with the establishment of US military bases, the US will have a certain power inside that country and can even violate the national integrity of Afghanistan without fearing the reaction of the government. This is a fact and completely depends on the extent of the establishment of national power in this country and whether it would be able to safeguard the interests of the people. But if the same weak position continues, the American will have the power to influence.
- Based on Karzai’s remarks, how possible is the signing of this agreement during his presidency, in your opinion?
- It seems that Karzai’s statements are not very serious. Karzai plays with public opinion and seeks another objective, otherwise he would sign the agreement. The fact that he has stated that the Loya jirga will meet in the next month and he does not intend to send this agreement to the parliament is because he is worried that they might not adopt this agreement. But since he has selected certain people in the Loya jirga who agree with the signing of this agreement, it seems that Karzai will sign this agreement before the presidential election and until March. But his intention behind such statements and pretending to show his opposition to the signing of this agreement or setting conditions for it is to impact public opinion for the election. He attempts to attract public opinion towards his team or those of whom he approves, but the agreement will be signed during this period and it can even be said that it might be signed within the next month.
- Another issue is peace with the Taliban, one of the conditions of which is the political and military absence of foreign forces in this country. If this agreement is signed, is it possible that this issue would be transformed into one of the major challenges between the government and the Taliban?
- Of course, there is this possibility because the Taliban knows that if the American and NATO forces gain bases in this country and remain there, their expectation to return to power and revive the Islamic rulership will be severely weakened. Furthermore, if the Americans reach an agreement with the Afghans, the policy of the Pakistanis might change and become hopeless about helping the Taliban to gain power. Therefore, from the Taliban’s point of view, the continuation of the Americans’ presence is very dangerous because they will create obstacles for them. But it can have other consequences as well. When the Taliban becomes hopeless about gaining power through the usage of forces, they might be encouraged to compromise with the government through which they could gain part of the power and since they have strong social bases among the Pashtun tribes, they can even participate in the democratic process and reach power. But under the present circumstances, my analysis is that until the signing of the agreement, the Taliban will exert maximum pressure both politically and militarily to prevent it but when it is signed they would be forced to review their policies.
- Have any of the candidates taken positions in this regard? How is the atmosphere of public opinion?
- The fact is that the candidates have so far attempted to bypass this issue so that it would not have negative effects on their votes.
The other issue is that the main groups which seek the signing of this agreement are, contrary to assumptions, the northern groups whose candidate is Abdullah Abdullah. They are concerned that if the Americans completely leave Afghanistan, the Taliban might gain power by force and make them return to Saidabad and it would be similar to the time prior to the entrance of the Americans when these groups cooperated with the US. Thus, this concern has caused them to be the main proponents of this agreement. This is while these groups are considered the closest group to Iran because they are Persian-speakers, Uzbeks and people who are culturally closer to Iran. But on the other hand, the Pashtuns and the Taliban are against this agreement because they believe that the government which now administers the country (despite the fact that Karzai’s ancestors are Pashtun) and the US’ interference have destroyed the historical power of the Pashtuns who have had it for the last 250-300 years. That is why they are strongly against the continuation of the presence of the Americans, but the military presence of the US is to the benefit of the Shiite Hazara, Tajik, and Uzbek minorities.
- Russia is also among the countries which is very concerned about the continuation of US presence in Afghanistan. What is the reason behind the Russians’ opposition and do their views impact the decision-making process of the Afghans?
- The Russians’ concerns are similar to those of the Iranians. Russia, China, Iran and to some extent India are concerned about US military bases in Afghanistan and its long presence in the region. The Russians, in particular, are afraid that if the Americans are present in Afghanistan, they will gradually attempt to take Central Asia out of the hands of the Russians and the same big game which has existed since the 19th century would end to the benefit of the Americans. Therefore, the Russians are very concerned. Of course, they have another concern as well and that is that if the Americans are permanently present in Afghanistan and compromise with the Taliban, then the radical groups which live in Chechnya and Uzbekistan and the Uyghurs who are in China will find the power to maneuver and intensify their opposition and continue their war against Russia. It is possible that these groups might gain the support of the West and an international competition between China and Russia would form. The Russians are concerned about this issue as well and believe that the events that happen in Afghanistan, particularly the influence of the Taliban in the Badakhshan region, will engage China, Russia and the Central Asian countries. The Americans might compromise with those groups who are fighting against them like al-Qaeda and its subgroups like the Hizb ut-Tahrir in Uzbekistan or the Chechen Liberation Front or the East Turkestan Movement and use radical groups against Russia and China. Thus, they attempt to prevent this event and discourage Afghanistan from signing this agreement but it seems that their power to maneuver is very limited.