What’s Missing in the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement?
Even as Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s outgoing president, continues to refuse to sign a crucial Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S., claiming that the Afghan military protects 93 percent of the country and therefore is more than prepared to take over from the U.S. military come January 2015, the ten candidates to take his place at Afghanistan’s helm have all pledged to sign the agreement. But in spite of the fact that I readily appreciate Washington’s insistence to secure a long-term military partnership with Kabul––to abandon Afghanistan now would reverse any gains made by the U.S. in its twelve-and-a-half-year struggle against the Taliban, and render futile the sacrifices of all American servicemen and women ever deployed to the region––I am likewise convinced that Karzai’s recalcitrance, however frustrating and seemingly undue, has some merit. Afghanistan does, after all, get the short end of the stick in this bargain.
Even a cursory examination of the Bilateral Security Agreement reveals that this concord is strictly as its name indicates. In article two of this agreement, which explains its purpose and scope, it is explicitly stated that this agreement only “provides the necessary authorizations for the presence and activities of United States forces in Afghanistan . . . , and in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors and United States contractor employees in Afghanistan.” Indeed, not once in the 24-page body of this treaty does the U.S. demonstrate a willingness to venture into the business of nation-building, that is, to subsidize and/or supervise the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s infrastructure and economy.
Essentially, the Bilateral Security Agreement, in its current form, guarantees Afghanistan a superior military partner in its struggle against the forces of radical Islam, along with a token American military presence of less than 10,000 troops––large enough to “train, advise and assist” Afghanistan’s 350,000 security personnel, yet small enough not to vex war-weary Americans––but not much else.
That this agreement offers Afghanistan little else is, as Karzai has most likely ascertained, worrying. If we are to learn anything from America’s failure since 9/11 to contain Islamic fundamentalism through reckless use of its military, it is that religious extremism cannot be suppressed by force alone. Rather, to effectively prevent such draconian convictions from ever becoming an issue, the international community must be prepared to address the underlying problem of a large underserved and underrepresented generation of aggrieved young Muslims who, bereft as they are of opportunity and general purpose, are especially susceptible to al Qaeda and Company’s assurances of eternal glory through jihad.
The U.S. can begin the effort to empower this suffocated generation of Muslims in Afghanistan, by improving that country’s access to food, water, and electricity; refurbishing its primary and secondary education systems; offering study abroad opportunities to promising young Afghans with the proviso that they should return to their native country upon completion of their schooling; and much more.
Whether or not the White House successfully persuades Karzai (or his successor) to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, the Obama administration should give serious consideration to such proposals as those listed above. They may mean the difference between winning and losing this war on terrorism.
Copyright © 2014 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.