New President, Old Problems

On his first full day of work as the new head of state and government, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani signed the so-called security agreement with the U.S. The agreement arranges the allowance of NATO forces beyond the remaining 10,000 U.S. soldiers in the Hindu Kush region until the year’s end. They primarily intend to train Afghan troops.

The treaty is required for similar agreements with countries such as Germany. The agreement had first been negotiated last November and executed by the Afghan president’s signature at a meeting of pro-government dignitaries and tribal representatives, Loya Jirga. But for reasons not entirely explained, Hamid Karzai refused to sign the agreement before he left office. He deferred the decision to his successor.

There are indeed reasons from Afghanistan’s perspective that the agreement will cause problems, such as the passage which states that U.S. soldiers are only required to answer to U.S. military courts for misconduct in Afghanistan. But in the end, Karzai’s refusal has massively increased uncertainty in the country and thereby played into the hands of the Taliban. The Taliban have achieved territorial gains in recent months.

Afghanistan’s army requires further assistance in order to be able to perform its duties. Alternatives to the security agreement and the training assistance bundled with it have never been developed. All except one candidate in the presidential campaign had clearly expressed support for the agreement. Thus Ghani’s signing of the agreement surprised few in comparison to its quick implementation. In any case, the former World Bank economist is considered pro-U.S. For a long time, that also applied to Karzai. However, his relationship with Washington under Obama was always inconsistent.

Many Afghans recall problems immediately following U.S. assistance and always start by reverting responsibility to the U.S. for errors made in their own country. Karzai relied on a constant drip from the U.S. his entire 13 years in office. Instead of making the best of it, he wanted to prove more and more that, in truth, he and his people were independent. One hopes that Ghani achieves growing independence through clever political maneuvering and not by cryptic power plays at the expense of the Afghans.

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