The Afghan-US Bilateral Security Agreement – Psychology of the Dilemma

Abstract: The issue of the BSA has been in the news for so long. There have been analyses and commentaries on the subject. Many of these comments lacked a scrutiny of the psychology of the issue. Well this article looks at that aspect.

President Obama had a meeting with his top military brass and the defense secretary at the Oval Office today. The White House spokesperson said it was a useful and positive meeting about Afghanistan and the United States regarding the policy of the US after 2014 for Afghanistan. However, it was stated that President Obama will continue to hear from his military and diplomatic personnel and that he has not taken a decision on the issue as yet. An earlier announcement had said that if the agreement was not signed the US would pull out all of its troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year.

On the other end, it seems that Karzai has a huge dilemma regarding a decision to sign the agreement or to let the issue ride past the Afghan presidential elections and be decided by the new administration. Why does he do that? Perhaps a good answer to this question would be it is all about “psychology.” Perhaps he had considered saving his legacy especially realizing that history would judge him sooner rather than later. He wanted to be judged favorably and for that reason he wanted to be recognized as a leader who said no to a superpower. He wanted to give a reason. What better reason than stating that he is doing all this for his country and his people. Whether this reason is good enough and how much this argument would weigh in history is a separate issue, but for a soon to be a lame duck president it probably means a lot. Secondly, as was reported by the news today, he had engaged in arranging secretly for talks with Taliban independent of the US involvement. Perhaps he was over optimistic that the Taliban would talk to his administration even at this late stage in his tenure in office. Well, by now he and the world at large would and should have known that you cannot count on prudence, sound diplomacy or logical approach in your dealings with the Taliban. Yet they are there because their movement’s creator, the Pakistani ISI (Inter-service Intelligence) and the Pakistani government want them to exist. Pakistan needs Afghan Taliban it considers as good Taliban to use for maintaining influence in the affairs of Afghanistan either directly or indirectly. Pakistan also has its own Taliban that it considers as bad Taliban and its favorable stand regarding the Afghan Taliban might buy it some respect by Pakistani Taliban as well. But that too is another interesting story that needs to be told outside the framework of this analysis.

It was indirectly revealed that Afghan Taliban has not agreed to talks with Mr. Karzai’s administration. Its leaders have shown no serious interest in talks as they have consistently considered Karzai a puppet of the United States. Karzai’s miscalculation once again has created problems in dealing with Taliban.

A few weeks earlier Karzai was repeating his demand that the US should bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. It clearly is an evidence of confused psychology on his part, because while he had consistently, in the past few years, insisted on negotiations with the Taliban to be an Afghan initiative, he now wanted the US to bring the Taliban, that oppose the US presence in Afghanistan in the first place.

He also made calculated remarks on some of the issues which are emotionally important for the Afghan nation. These included the night raids by the US forces in Afghan villages, the civilian casualties inflicted by the US led military and the need for a guarantee that the US would stand by the side of Afghanistan if it is invaded by foreign forces especially neighboring countries. This argument naturally has supporters among some groups of the population who on the one hand want the presence of the US troops in Afghanistan while on the other want the sovereignty of the country respected. Having a superpower as a friend and not an occupier would mean a lot to the Afghans.

So far the United States has also used its psychological card first by calling Karzai’s bluff and slowly and gradually embarking on threats of a complete pull out that would mean leaving the Afghans on their own to find sources of financing for Afghanistan’s security forces. These sources are not readily available to the Afghan government. The result would be catastrophic to peace in that country. Even now that the US financial and military support is available, Taliban has continued its acts of violence under the nose of Karzai in Kabul and elsewhere in the country.

None of these cards by either side has proved useful so far. Perhaps both sides are correct to believe that the BSA is important to them obviously for both similar and also different reasons. The conditions by the Afghan president for signing are both simple and complicated depending on which one you look at. A complete pullout and leaving Afghanistan on its own would not benefit the US, again for a variety of reasons. So what is the solution? Diplomacy! While on the US side there is an abundance of diplomats who have the experience to play their cards in a useful manner, if provided clear directives to work out a mutually acceptable solution, on the Afghan side, the diplomatic system and machinery have shown no ability to solve such complicated issues. Power is fully in the hands of the president of Afghanistan who has shown that he does not trust the parliament and is hesitating to value the decision of a Loya Jirgah he himself called to discuss the issue and which assembly approved the signing of the treaty. Now as per the head of NATO it would seem that Karzai might sign a new BSA. It is not known what is meant by a new BSA and what happens to the BSA that was rather thoroughly negotiated between the two governments? 02/04/2014