With the Taliban showing no signs of giving up their fight to topple the Afghan government, Afghanistan and the United States are currently attempting to negotiate the terms of a strategic partnership to determine the future of America’s military presence in Afghanistan.
Currently, the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) 130,000 troops, 90,000 of whom are Americans, is scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, at which time security of the country will fall into the hands of Afghan security forces.
Among the myriad of issues to be resolved is the number, if any, of American troops who would remain in Afghanistan beyond the scheduled pullout date and under what conditions they would operate.
It is believed that Afghan officials are looking for an international force of at least 20,000 troops to remain behind in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline in order to provide support to the approximately 350,000 Afghan security forces.
So, in order to strengthen his political hand in the ongoing negotiations with the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently called upon a loya jirga, or grand council, consisting of over 2,000 Afghan tribal and village leaders for its support.
In particular, Karzai sought the loya jirga’s approval to negotiate a long-term security pact with the United States that contained a set of preconditions laid down by the Afghan president, including terminating American night raid operations, placing the Afghan government in charge of all insurgent detainees, and limiting the length of the pact to 10 years.
As an unelected body, the loya jirga is prohibited by the Afghan Constitution from making legally binding decisions, yet it nevertheless ended its four days of deliberations in the Afghan capital of Kabul by giving Karzai near unanimous approval to negotiate a security pact laden with his prerequisites.
While the loya jirga’s decision was met with favor by Karzai, not everyone in Afghanistan registered the same enthusiasm. In fact, a number of key Afghan figures, such as Karzai’s main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, and former ally, Abdul Rashid Dostum, had boycotted the loya jirga, deeming it unconstitutional and capable of fomenting greater conflict.
Those concerns were immediately on display after the loya jirga had announced its support of negotiations when nearly 1,000 demonstrators took to Afghan streets burning effigy’s of Barrack Obama and demanding an end to the American presence in Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, the Taliban also took displeasure with the loya jirga by quickly issuing a statement that read in part, “We believe that (the agreement) was already designed by the Americans and only used the name of loya jirga to announce it.”
In fact, the Taliban had signaled its displeasure weeks earlier by issuing stringent warnings that those attending the loya jirga were supporting a long-term US presence in Afghanistan and would be considered “traitors” and “deserving of harsh penalties.”
Those penalties first surfaced days before the opening of the assembly when a suspected suicide bomber carrying a bag of explosives was shot dead near the jirga venue. Then, the day after the meeting opened, Taliban insurgents fired two rockets at the conference site, although no one was killed or injured in the attack.
Of course, the Taliban had reacted similarly to another loya jirga convened by Karzai in June 2010 to discuss possible reconciliation talks with the Taliban, an overture to which the Taliban responded by having its fighters, clad in suicide vests, launch rocket attacks against the attendees.
Since that point, efforts to engage the Taliban in peace talks have further deteriorated as the insurgents infiltrated the ranks of Afghan security forces and conducted a series of assassinations against an array of high-level government and security officials.
These deadly attacks included the suicide bomb assassinations of Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother to Hamid Karzai in July 2011 and Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator and former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, in September 2011.
So, while the current loya jirga may have displeased Afghan political leaders, protesters and the Taliban, it may have also helped serve to alienate the United States.
In particular, the United States military has chafed at the demand that it terminate its Special Operations Forces night raids targeting insurgent leaders, facilitators and bomb-makers. Coalition forces carry out hundreds of such night operations a month, which they claim are an effective way to keep pressure on militants.
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