The BSA conundrum

Published: December 15, 2013
The writer has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and blogs at

The writer has a master’s degree in conflict resolution from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and blogs at

Hamid Karzai is continuing to withhold his approval of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US until a set of new conditions are met. Without an approved security agreement, Afghanistan faces a complete withdrawal of the coalition forces by December 2014. A finalised BSA does not guarantee a successful transition of control, but holding formal approval hostage detracts from efforts that could be better spent focusing on meaningful long-term goals.

A security agreement was recently approved by a Loya Jirga after a year of quibbling and negotiations. However, the ever-unpredictable Karzai has jeopardised the bargain by declaring that he won’t be signing it until after the elections in April. He has made several other significant demands: a complete ban on house raids conducted by the foreign military, an American pledge to help Afghanistan launch the peace process by initiating meetings between the Peace Council and the Afghan Taliban and the release of the Taliban leader, Ghani Baradar, who was captured in Pakistan as a result of a joint mission between the Pakistani and American forces. When it was suggested that the deal could be signed by someone other than Karzai, for instance, the defence minister, Karzai declared that none of his ministers would sign the deal till the new conditions have been met.

Karzai stated that the special representative to the region, James Dobbins, made it clear to him that without a security agreement, there would be no peace and that the US will pull out its entire military. Forty-seven thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan and the US has been in discussions with Afghanistan about providing them with a residual training force of about 8,000 troops after the end of the Nato combat mission in 2014. Dobbins also pointed out that delaying approval of the agreement promotes uncertainty and further strains the tattered national economy.

Looking at the BSA from Pakistan’s perspective, the document is overtly intrusive. Article 6 of the BSA contains a clause regarding action against any state that ‘threatens’ Afghanistan’s territorial sovereignty. Since Afghanistan has never recognised the Durand Line and claims territory up to the Indus, Pakistan would be considered to be in a perpetual state of illegal occupation and open to joint punitive action at will. The US must recognise this flaw in the document and make revisions to avoid additional harm to their drone testing field to the east of the Durand Line. There will be enough headaches for Pakistan during and after the drawdown without piling on poorly thought out legal language.

Recent history has provided an example of what can happen following the withdrawal of security forces from an occupied nation. Dismantled physically and functionally by conflict, violence in Iraq has now reached its highest level since 2008 and more than 8,000 people have been killed this year. Discussions between the US and Iraq regarding security forces failed in a familiar fashion and eventually led to a full withdrawal of the American military at the end of 2011. Afghanistan is on a trajectory to suffer a similar fate and moves close to collapsing once again, merely two decades after the Soviets withdrew from the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Sukh Madiq
    Dec 15, 2013 - 3:28AM

    “Drone testing field” …. ZING! Quality and well deserved burn right there.


  • Hedgefunder
    Dec 15, 2013 - 3:29AM

    The Author has pointed out some very valid points and concerns, However not managed to ask the Questions of the Establishments in Pakistan as to their intentions.
    Face the facts here Karzai is simply a lame duck, buying time and trying to look strong !
    We all know that without US support and security, he would have vanished long time ago.
    Now the reality, can Pakistan afford to keep meddling in Afghanistan ???
    They certainly have lost all confidence from major donor nations for future Aid or Loans and its basic economic survival is too on line !
    So the real question should be, can Pakistan continue to play the games it has for past three decades for its basic survival, ? as the smart money suggest otherwise, as to its own existence in present form over next decade, yet they are blind as to their own actions !


  • Feroz
    Dec 15, 2013 - 7:39AM

    Afghanistan cannot collapse without outside interference, if it does it will take its neighbor with it.


  • Anjaan
    Dec 15, 2013 - 8:19AM

    On the face of it, the BSA looks like a good piece of agreement, with American charitable intentions for the region … but apparently, there is more than meet the eyes … what is the American game plan behind this BSA thing …. and why Karzai feels that by signing BSA, Afghanistan would be sold short …. ?? …. can anyone explain … ?Recommend

  • Lala Gee
    Dec 15, 2013 - 12:17PM

    My guess is US would completely withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, just like they did in Iraq. It is their internal politics which is not allowing them to admit this fact and are insisting on signing BSA. They didn’t sign any agreement before coming, why would they need one now if they really want to stay.


  • taurus
    Dec 15, 2013 - 8:14PM

    @Feroz: when was Afghanistan a ‘country’, last and when did it affect its neighbours???


  • IZ
    Dec 15, 2013 - 9:04PM

    Dear America,
    While you’re trying to coerce Afghanistan in to signing away much of its autonomy by signing the BSA, please also get them to sign away their territorial claims on our border.
    Much obliged,
    Your best frenemy,


  • Anjaan
    Dec 15, 2013 - 10:16PM

    @ Lala Gee,
    Makes sense … I suspect, the American game plan is to buy time, and delay the inevitable Afghan civil war …. the Americans are worried about Pakistan’s well being … and do not want their major non-NATO ally to get destabilized now, in case Afghanistan falls back into civil war … it is all about buying time … it is also about getting India to show its cards, which India is not doing … at the end of the day, there is a lot more trust in US -Pakistan relations, than US-India ….Recommend

  • Dec 16, 2013 - 12:44AM

    In the past US had such an agreement with countries such as Japan and Korea. Today they have the biggest economies of the world.Let’s forget the economy for the a second. Do you think Al-Qaeda and the Talibaan would welcome this agreement? In the past all though Soviet Union left Afghanistan, but they kept on supporting the Afghan government till 1992 and the end result was that a civil war brought out in the country. Do you think history will be repeated?


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 16, 2013 - 3:39AM

    The author Miss Khan writes wth clarity, articulates the story without a spin, has a wealth of knowledge about the people of the region but does not betray her own opinion in the subject. Madam, never mind what the strategic implications for the neighbouring countries would be but tell us if in your opinion the Amir of Afghanistan will give way to the abominal demands of the American Sherif on the issue?

    Rex Minor


  • Zalmai
    Dec 18, 2013 - 2:05AM

    @ Taurus

    Afghanistan has been around since 1747 and it has affected the whole region from the days of Abdali to the present times.

    Afghans have influenced all facets of life in the Indian sub continent, ranging from culture, language, food, music, poetry and folklore.


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