Twelve years of U.S.-led fighting in Afghanistan is on the verge of being wasted because of the pride of one man.
Hamid Karzai convened a council of respected elders, known as a Loya Jirga, to advise him on a proposed agreement with the United States to allow a residual force to remain in place after 2014. The council advised him to sign it. And yet now Karzai is saying he will let Afghanistan’s next president decide whether to sign after elections in April.
But even that deadline now seems uncertain, given that Karzai said this week he would like to postpone April’s elections in order to avoid heavy snowfall.
The Obama administration has said that without an agreement in place by the end of this year, it would pull out all troops and let the Afghan security forces fend for themselves. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he will have no choice but to also withdraw forces from a training and advisory mission unless an agreement is reached with the Americans.
No doubt the United States would feel somewhat of a sense of relief if it no longer had to worry about losing lives in what has become an unpopular conflict in a far-away land. But the United States has lost more than 2,200 of its people in Afghanistan since the conflict began following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. They should not be allowed to have died in vain.
The conflict was waged to overthrow the Taliban — the ruling party that had terrorized Afghan citizens and created a safe haven for terrorists. The 9/11 terror attacks were plotted there under Taliban cover. And while the United States and coalition forces succeeded in forcing the Taliban from power, they never have succeeded in forcing a surrender. Nor has Afghanistan’s new government, led by Karzai, succeeded in gaining sufficient strength to withstand Taliban insurgents on its own.
An agreement with the United States had snagged over U.S. demands that its soldiers be granted immunity from Afghan laws. U.S. soldiers would remain subject to U.S. laws and justice for any crimes committed. That conflict seemed to have been settled to the satisfaction of both sides before Karzai suddenly decided to be stubborn.
Many observers believe Karzai still holds a grudge for what he feels was a lack of U.S. support for his re-election 2009. His behavior lately, however, seems to cross the line into petulance. Reports over the weekend said he was accusing U.S. forces of withholding fuel supplies from Afghan forces.
Without the help of U.S. and coalition forces, Afghanistan’s army has little chance against the Taliban. The Loya Jirga understands this, as do many Afghanis. Were the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan, there is little reason to believe it would not simply pick up where it left off before 9/11, reinstating harsh laws and harboring terrorists.
More than just a sad failure for the West, that would put the United States at risk.