1 اکتوبر، 2014

Mending Alliance, U.S. and Afghanistan Sign Long-Term Security Agreement

 

KABUL, Afghanistan — American and Afghan officials signed a long-term security pact here on Tuesday, nearly a year after the agreement was cast into limbo by a breakdown of trust at the highest levels of each allied government.

The new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, sworn in just a day earlier, oversaw the signing of the security pact in a cordial ceremony at the presidential palace, sending a clear message that he meant to heal an alliance that had soured under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.

“We have signed an agreement for the good of our people,” he said, outlining a relationship of “shared dangers and shared interests” with the United States.

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan Is Sworn In, Even as He Shares the StageSEPT. 29, 2014
Hamid Karzai, the departing president of Afghanistan, lashed out at the United States in a farewell speech on Tuesday in Kabul.In Farewell Speech, Karzai Calls American Mission in Afghanistan a BetrayalSEPT. 23, 2014
The deal, known as a bilateral security agreement, will allow 9,800 American and at least 2,000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after the international combat mission formally ends on Dec. 31. Most of them will help train and assist the struggling Afghan security forces, although some American Special Operations forces will remain to conduct counterterrorism missions.

The buoyant scenes at the palace were in stark contrast to the increasingly tense, even hostile, expressions between officials in the final months of Mr. Karzai’s presidency, after he suddenly refused to sign the agreement late last year after months of brinkmanship.

Still, the global landscape in which the security agreement is finally taking hold is quite different from the one in which it was conceived more than a year ago.

The sudden onslaught of Islamic State jihadist militants in Syria and Iraq has reshaped a large stretch of the Middle East. The new United States military mission against the group has dominated American attention and resources in a way painfully familiar to Afghans who felt the 2003 invasion of Iraq left Afghanistan’s needs marginalized.

In Afghanistan, a multifront Taliban offensive this summer has raised serious questions about the ability of the Afghan security forces to keep the insurgency at bay as they suffer soaring casualty rates and continue to struggle with logistical problems. And there are new concerns about Afghan political unity after a bitter election dispute between Mr. Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, revived some of the ethnic and geographic dividing lines that had seemed to ebb under Mr. Karzai’s management.

Yet despite the rapid changes, some analysts say the security pact may still offer Afghanistan a different path, helping to solidify the country’s political dispensation and create the underpinnings necessary to avoid state collapse.

“The B.S.A. has a symbolic, stabilizing role for the political process in Kabul,” said Vali R. Nasr, dean at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. “Now that Iraq has happened, and the president has acknowledged that we underestimated the risk there, he can’t afford to make the same mistake in Afghanistan.”

Many Afghans agreed. Although Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah were divided over the results of June’s vote, they were united by the need to sign the security pact, which American officials had tacitly tied to the continued flow of billions of dollars in military and civilian aid.

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Speaking at Tuesday’s ceremony, Mr. Ghani, a former World Bank official, pointedly reminded his Western allies that they had promised Afghanistan $16 billion in economic aid, and that a stable Afghanistan was very much a shared interest.

But Mr. Ghani also addressed lingering Afghan sovereignty concerns, stressing that international forces would not be allowed to raid mosques or other sacred sites; foreign contractors would be subject to strict government regulation; and that both countries have the right to withdraw from the pact in two years.

American officials, for their part, appeared simply relieved that an episode that had stirred much rancor — and multiple diplomatic interventions by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry — had finally come to an end.

After signing the pact in Kabul, the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, firmly embraced Hanif Atmar, the new Afghan security adviser, who signed for his country. And in Washington, Mr. Obama said the agreement reflected a “continued commitment to support the new Afghan unity government.”

Senior White House officials said the lesson of Iraq — where despite training from American advisers, the security forces have been unable to hold back the advance of Sunni militants — is that a unified government is a precursor to maintaining stability after the bulk of American troops are gone.

“This is exactly what we planned for,” Antony J. Blinken, the deputy national security adviser, said in an interview. The agreement puts the United States on a “very deliberate glide path that enables us to sustain our support for the Afghan security forces, which already are in the lead throughout the country.”

The security pact provides for a significantly different international military presence in Afghanistan from next January. The current NATO-led mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force, will give way to a training mission headquartered in Kabul with six bases around the country.

The smaller mission, whose size is yet to be finalized, will consist of American Special Operations forces based in the small number of remaining American bases. A base in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, could also remain a launching point for armed drone missions in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.

Another undecided question is the role of American airstrikes. Outraged by civilian casualties, Mr. Karzai had all but banned air attacks — a condition many Afghan commanders say has contributed to high casualty numbers. Mr. Ghani has signaled a willingness to reverse that stance.

In his inauguration speech on Monday, Mr. Ghani called on the Taliban to join peace talks. But he also warned that the invitation should not be taken as a sign of weakness, and that his government would respond forcefully to any attacks on civilians.

The Taliban denounced the security pact as a “sinister” plot by the United States, and used it to launch its first propaganda assault on the new Ghani administration.

“With this action, the new staff of the presidential palace have proved their disloyalty to the religion and history of Afghanistan,” said a Pashto-language statement posted on Twitter. The following post read: “Death to America!”

http://www.nytimes.com/

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