HUFFINGTON POST 10/17/13
By Michael Shank
The Bilateral Security Agreement deal, forged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, will be quickly undone since the U.S. is not focused on the right kind of settlement.
Attacks on Afghan officials in the last week show how quickly things can unravel.
That Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga is now the decider on legal jurisdiction over U.S. troops post-2014 gives the impression that an independent decision on troop immunity was reached by Afghans.
That is hardly the case. In fact, it will be interesting to see how much tampering happens in choosing the delegates for the Jirga and what changes between Karzai Administration and U.S. in the next few weeks.
It can go either way. There might be a cut and run by the U.S., or a “let’s stay long enough to make it look like we really tried.” We witnessed this in Iraq as well.
The U.S. and Afghan government are making sure that the deal’s language doesn’t go public too far ahead of the Jirga, because the Afghan press would seize upon it and the public would protest loudly against troop immunity.
Karzai, consequently, is engaging in smart political strategizing. By having the Jirga accept the deal — and he can use his influence to bring enough tribal and political delegates that favor a deal with U.S. — he doesn’t run the political risk for himself or his brother’s campaign.
But here’s the real travesty in any post-2014 security deal: it won’t leave Afghans better off, no matter how many US troops — at present, 10,000 troops are estimated — will stay or leave the country.
Why, because the US has not prioritized improvements in the basic infrastructure and sustainable livelihoods of most Afghans. The military agenda, not unlike in Iraq, has dominated US presence and priorities. It’s a shame really, because unless you get people employed, and ideally educated, there’s little likelihood that stability will manifest in any sustainable fashion.
Socio-economic and political security, in sum, have not surfaced to the top of our Afghanistan agenda these last dozen years. Political reconciliation, forget about it. Sustainable development, forget about it.
The most successful and scalable program that is rebuilding Afghanistan is an indigenous one: the Community Development Councils (CDCs) within the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development’s National Solidarity Program. And it is antithetical to our reconstruction and stabilization approaches. The CDCs are managed by locals, operationalized by locals, and funded in small block grants — the exact opposite of our foreign-run, contractor-operated, big block grants, which ultimately get saddled with corruption and credibility issues.
As America withdraws in 2014, will we have left Afghanistan better off in terms of infrastructure, transportation, markets, electricity, clean water and sanitation, mobility and opportunity? Small gains, perhaps, but nothing meritorious of the hundreds of billions we’ve spent on this war in particular. The return on US taxpayer investment is negligible. We’d fire investors for misspending far less.
Lest we leave Afghanistan like we left Iraq, we’d be wise to wake up to Afghanistan realities and change course immediately. For too long, we’ve captained this war-mongering ship and it’s about time we let the locals settle their own conflicts, taking cues from them and supporting where possible, not the other way around.
Michael Shank, Ph.D., is Director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Adjunct Faculty at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.