The negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the US have stalled. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he may not sign the agreement as he wants US assurance for peace before he signs the document, while the US sees bringing peace as a long process and is threatening to pull out all troops by the end of 2014 if the BSA is not signed.
The BSA is an important document that extends access to military bases in Afghanistan to US forces. It also establishes guidelines for the US military in post-2014 Afghanistan, after most of the international combat forces will be withdrawn.
In general, there is eagerness among the Afghan people to sign the agreement with the US and perhaps a similar one with NATO, and continue to build on cooperative relations with the international community. This was obvious in the historic consultative Loya Jirga meeting in Kabul where unanimous support was voiced for the signature of the document.
However, Karzai has declined to sign the agreement any time soon. Most recently he said in an interview with the Washington Post that he wouldn't sign it and perhaps his future replacement could sign the document.
Karzai's official position is that the document should not be only a nicely worded and rhetorical document, but it should pave the way for lasting peace and security in Afghanistan. He believes Afghan peace is in the hands of the US and Pakistan.
What he means by stating this publicly is that the US can exert sufficient diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to bring the Taliban to serious peace talks. Afghanistan believes Pakistan may have influence over the insurgent groups across the border.
The US finds it hard to respond to reach an agreement over this with Karzai, thus negotiations have stalled.
Whether the BSA is signed or not will have significant implications for both Afghanistan and the world. Two scenarios can be predicted. One is that the BSA is not signed and US and other NATO forces leave Afghanistan for good. Another is that the BSA is left to the new president to sign.
If the BSA is not signed and the US and allies decide to leave Afghanistan for good at the end of 2014, it would be a dangerous and perhaps an unwise decision. Afghanistan still needs international technical and financial support to establish thorough and capable forces that are able to defend Afghanistan's integrity and have a monopoly over power.
Such a decision would also open up the country's weak institutions to potential exploitation, as happened in the 1990s, and devolve the country back to one that poses serious security threats affecting Afghanistan, its immediate neighbors and rest of the world.
Besides, all the efforts and achievements of the country in the past decade would soon vanish as weak institutions and budding democracy still need international attention and support to mature.
Thus, while the BSA is an important agreement, the international community should not link the complete pullout with financial support to Afghanistan.
A second scenario is that the US plans beyond the Afghan presidential elections to be held next month and has the BSA signed with the next government. This may be a better decision as most of the presidential candidates have shown interest in singing the document.
However, in deciding this the US would risk time and there is no guarantee that a future president would be swift in signing the BSA before the end of 2014.
It is also important for the international community to take into consideration the needs and willingness of the Afghan people to seek international commitment in building on their enormous achievements since 2002 and to create a better society in Afghanistan well beyond 2014.
In this regard, the political upheaval and disagreements over the BSA should not be the only deciding factor on staying or leaving in Afghanistan.
This article was also published online on Sharnoff's Global Views at http://www.sharnoffsglobalviews.com/bilateral-security-agreement-206/