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The eagle has landed in Central Asia

The signing of the US-Afghan strategic pact by presidents Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai is undoubtedly a landmark event in regional security. A long-term American military presence in the region has become a compelling reality for all countries neighboring Afghanistan. Obama has scattered all skepticism about the US’ resolve to remain committed in the region’s security. The shadow of the US presence will fall on the Central Asian steppes and may well thwart Vladimir Putin’s Eurasia Union project. China has to contend with thousands of American troops on the borders of Xinjiang. 

The White House fact sheet on the pact confirms an “enduring US presence in Afghanistan” and maintains that there will be no “permanent [US] military bases”. But it is a matter of semantics, since Kabul is “committed to provide US personnel access to and use of Afghan facilities through 2014 and beyond”. We all would know that the Afghans have hardly any control over the bases where the US troops and war equipment are located. 
The fact sheet confirms in essence that US combat troops and special forces, etc. will remain in Afghanistan. A Bilateral Security Agreement ( read status of forces agreement) will be concluded in an year’s time. Interestingly, the US will regard Afghanistan as a ‘Major Non-NATO Ally’ so that it becomes a relationship based on a “long-term framework of security and defence cooperation.” 
The US has done well to sign the pact swiftly within a week or so of its initialing by the negotiators. The risk was always there of a miss between the cup and the lip, as the Iraq experience would tell. The Afghan situation is volatile, Karzai is a mercurial personality and there are regional powers who would do their damnest to scuttle the pact. 
Paradoxically, the recent Taliban attacks on Kabul may have created a climate of opinion within Afghanistan favoring continued US military presence. The Afghan parliament is expected to ratify the pact as early as next week. 
The regional powers too have fallen silent. Iran is preparing for the talks in Baghdad on May 23 with the P5+1. Russia is busy with the transition in the Kremlin. China never voices any public opinions on US military bases in Afghanistan, while India is a silent votary of long-term US military presence in the region as a guarantor-cum-provider of security for Afghanistan. 
The big question is about Pakistan’s attitude. Technically, this is a matter between the US and Pakistan, which are sovereign countries. But Pakistan has to factor in extraneous considerations — Taliban’s visceral opposition (at least, in public) to the US presence; domestic opinion within Pakistan; long-term US intentions toward Pakistan; limits to Pakistan’s influence over the power structure in Kabul, etc. 
But to my mind, Pakistan will learn to live with the long-term military presence in Afghanistan, and may even seek to turn it to its advantage. The military leadership in Rawalpindi will certainly know the futility of a confrontation with the US and would extract advantages out of the US’ long-term heavy dependence on transit routes through Pakistan. Conceivably, continued US engagement in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan also helps divert Taliban militancy away from Pakistan. In short, it is crunch time for Pakistan to decide what sort of Afghanistan it desires as neighbor.  
There are silver linings. The point is, the ice has been broken in the US-Pakistan standoff. The protagonists are old hands at dealing with each other and they know they can’t do without each other on the Afghan chessboard. Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani will have another meeting with Obama in Chicago during the NATO summit, which will more or less clear the air for the reset of the US-Pak ties. In sum, Pakistan will bend with the wind — and the wind is blowing in favor of Obama. Read my article in Asia Times titled ‘Obama has an Afghan game plan’.  

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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3 Responses

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  1. Saul says

    Pakistan has not cooperated fully with America in helping America have its victory. The NATO logistic routes that came from Pakistan allowed America to continue to waging this war. Without those NATO logistic routes, the war hangs on a thread. These lines have been shut for 8 months. It is very difficult for any Pakistani general or politician to reopen them now with anincreasing Pakistani public hostility to Pakistan’s involvement in the war and an increasingly assertive emergent religious political order seen with DPC, the supply lines may not be reopened, or it doesn’t look as if it ever will. DPC has threatened to use force to keep the lines closed.

    In short, after trying to bargain with the Taliban to have permanent bases, something that was unlikely, all the US did was what they did not want to do- signed a pact with their man, Karzai, a pact which carries no weight, or message. The war still goes on, and the spring season has arrived. The murkier the news from Afghanistan, the worse it is for Obama’s reelection prospects in regard to his foreign policy

  2. Saul says

    The eagle landed in Afghanistan in 2001, so this title makes no sense. On the contrary in fact, the eagle is taking off, and flying away in a very awkward manner just as the unusual manner in which Obama crept into Afghanistan in pitch darkness and also left the same way. A similar situation happened in Vietnam 2 years before the US withdrew. This is not a naysayer interpretation, but it was a forgone conclusion that Karzai would sign a pact – the fact of the matter is is that a pact with Karzai or the parliament really has no meaning since they are a stooge regime anyways (like Diem). Thats the consequence for the US of having a stooge regime in Kabul: they do whatever is told to them, but at the end of the day, the “deals” with them carry no weight. All we get from this is really semantics meant for the Taliban and the region. If the repeated vows of “staying the course” did not work before, it is hardly likely to work this time.

    If one takes the previous statements of “staying the course” and puts it next to this, this appears to be Obama putting all his cards in. Now, what will be clear is that there is no room for negotiation from the Taliban perspective. China, Pakistan, and Iran are certainly opposed to a US military presence, and will not just sit back and go along with something they have been opposed to for the last 10 years. India has seriously miscalculated this as they did before when they supported the Soviet war and occupation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s history stands the test of time, and mistakes by world powers are continuously made there.

  3. kalkimann says

    “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will have a key role in Afghanistan and Central Asia”

    in context of:

    Sep 4, 2010
    Inspectors miss the flight to Kyrgyzstan
    By M K Bhadrakumar

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