After a year of hard-fought negotiations, the United States and Afghanistan have completed drafts of a strategic partnership agreement that pledges American support for Afghanistan for 10 years after the withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2014. The agreement is noteworthy because it puts down in writing for the first time the nature of the relationship the US will have with Afghanistan once American troops leave. Here’s what you really need to know about the potentially historic deal.
Getting here has been no walk in the park. The talks to reach the agreement were “intense,” said The New York Times, which noted that “geopolitical frictions in the region from two powerful neighbors, Iran and Pakistan” led to the talks breaking down on a number of occasions. Iran and Pakistan oppose long-term American ties with Afghanistan. The Washington Post identified the key recent stumbling blocks: “For months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to consider the agreement until American-led night raids were halted and the United States handed over its main military prison to Afghan officials. Those roadblocks were removed with the signing of recent deals, which cleared the way for the partnership agreement … ”
Remarkable deal given recent events. That the partnership has been reached is pretty astonishing considering how many body blows there have been to Afghan-American relations in recent months. Shocking incidents including the burning of Korans, the massacre of 16 civilians attributed to a lone Army sergeant, and the appearance of photos of American soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents have severely strained relations.
Why it’s been struck. The New York Times spelled out just why both countries have been working on the partnership: “It is meant to reassure the Afghan people that the United States will not abandon them, to warn the Taliban not to assume that they can wait out the West, and to send a message to Pakistan, which American officials believe has been hedging its bets in the belief that an American departure would leave the Taliban in charge.”
The Washington Post carried the official American objective. “Our goal is an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity and that contributes to our shared goal of defeating al-Qaeda and its extremist affiliates,” said Gavin A. Sundwall, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. “We believe this agreement supports that goal.”
Taliban buster? “The Iranians don’t like it because it shows the U.S. is going to be here for a long time,” a European diplomat told The New York Times, who noted that the Taliban would not like it for the same reason. “This is important because they cannot tell their soldiers now just to sit it out and wait for 2014.” Indeed, the Taliban responded to the draft agreement within minutes, issuing a detailed statement condemning it as another spineless giveaway to the Americans by the Karzai administration.
Symbolic, vague. In many respects the strategic partnership agreement is “more symbolic than substantive,” adjudged The New York Times, which noted that it does not lay out specific dollar amounts of aid or name programs that the Americans will support “nor does it lay out specifically what the American military and security presence will be after 2014 or what role it will play.” The Washington Post said that, “at this stage, the document provides only a vaguely worded reassurance, leaving many to guess at what the U.S. commitment means in practice.”
It’s wide-ranging. Although the agreement’s text has not been released, we do know it’s pretty wide-ranging. The New York Times reported that it “builds on hard-won new understandings the two countries reached in recent weeks” and covers social and economic development, institution building, regional cooperation and security.
Not final just yet. The draft agreement was initialed by Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, and Rangin Spanta, the Afghan national security adviser, at a meeting of the Afghan national security council on Sunday. It will now be sent to President Hamid Karzai and to the Afghan Parliament for review and approval, and also to President Barack Obama. It will only become final when signed by the two presidents, according to American and Afghan officials.
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