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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

OPINION
GARIMA SHARMA AND HIMANSHI SIDDHARTH | 20 JANUARY, 2014

STATE OF ANIMATED SUSPENSION: US-AFGHANISTAN DIPLOMATIC FACE-OFF

Obama's recent policy of 'Asia pivot' –and with it, the plans to establish the US military and economic supremacy in the region – appears to have taken a massive beating lately from many quarters of both soft and military power. Not the least of it has something to do with the US policy paralysis in Afghanistan, of both the military and diplomatic kind. Manifestly, this becomes evident from the paralysis of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) signed between Afghanistan and the US. Probing deeper, the politics of it, over a long period of time, explains the current stand-off between the two supposed allies.

Current stand-off in a historical perspective

The US and Afghanistan have never been natural allies. The relationship can be conceived more in terms of a forced proximity, necessitated by the factor of Taliban, playing out paradoxically differently in two different contexts. The US intervention in the Afghan civil war of 1979-88 was a direct fallout of the Cold War, despite hard attempts at maintaining an uneasy détente between the Western bloc and the Soviet Union. Afghanistan just became one of the 'spheres' of influence to be hijacked as a foot-hold of one of the two blocs, and the Mujahideen groups spawned by the US and its allies to counter the Soviet influence were to subsequently strengthen the independent legacy of the Taliban. The consolidated dominance of the Taliban – especially after 1996, when Taliban formally took control of the country – in Afghanistan in the years following the end of the civil war and the Soviet exit in 1989 paradoxically culminated in the beginning of the 'war on terror' launched by the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This marked the beginning of the 12-year long counter-terrorism crusade of the US, making Afghanistan a primary military base to achieve this.

The US-led military campaign in Afghanistan, targeting the Taliban, was subsequently consolidated under the U.N Security Council-authorised International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was controlled by the NATO. Among its many global military operations, the Afghanistan campaign has been classified as the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

Intensification and drawdown

While the Bush administration adopted a balanced policy of deployment of troops in Afghanistan, a sharp surge in the same was seen in Obama's policy towards Afghanistan, as higher priority was accorded to the region in Obama's policy. The peak point was reached in mid-2011 after a 'surge' of US troop deployed in 2009. After this period, there began a progressive drawdown. The chart below maps this process from 2006 to 2013.

The formal process of withdrawal began in 2011. It was divided into a phasing-out of troops in 'five tranches' over a period of 2011-2014. The last phase of the transition began in 2013. June 2013 saw the formal transfer of the security arrangements from the NATO-led ISAF to the Afghan National Army. The entire process of transition was underscored by a premeditated systematic transfer of power, intended to involve training of Afghan forces, which can be counted as a step in the direction to ensure peace building. It also involved holding peace negotiations between the Taliban and the US and Afghanistan.

Post-conflict stability

Thus, the process of successive drawdown of US troops was also accompanied by the more positive movement centring on the visualisation of how a post-2014 Afghanistan would be like. It was as a part of this responsibility that the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement was conceived between the two countries in the summer of 2012, incorporating provisions relating to the US-Afghanistan relations after 2014. It was, in turn, as a part of this larger agreement, that the negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), formally drafted as the 'Security and Defence Cooperation Agreement', were launched between the US and Afghanistan.

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