A Significant Step Forward
Only a day after taking over power from former president Hamid Karzai, the new government signed the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US as well as the status of forces (SOFA) with NATO. The security pact with the United States was signed by Hanif Atmar, the newly-appointed national advisor to President Ahmadzai and James Cunningham, US ambassador to Afghanistan. President Karzai refused to sign the agreements despite having negotiated them, dampening the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States. The agreements pave the way for presence of 10,000 US troops along with thousands more from other allied nations. The bilateral security agreement was signed in presence of government dignitaries and diplomats representing stakeholders in the agreements. Ratification of the BSA, which came only a day after the inauguration of the new president, sends a strong message to the global community, particularly to the audiences in Afghanistan and the United States. President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign the BSA although he had been the one to arrange for the Loya Jirga to deliberate the matter. Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement to which the Loya Jirga had given its unanimous approval resulted to further tensions between Afghanistan and the United States, and created deep mistrust between the two sides over the future of the US role in Afghanistan. Karzai’s opposition to ratifying the agreement sparked widespread concerns among Afghan politicians as well as ordinary citizens that the failure to sign the deal could result in the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The delay of ratification has obviously contributed to the decline of Afghan economy and the businesses over the past several months. Entrepreneurs and the business class in general felt unsure about the future stability of the country after withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The economy’s performance is expected to get back to normal now that the changeover of power to the new president and ratification of the agreement with the US has been completed. The ratification is of particular importance as the multi-billion dollar aid packages from the US and other major donors have been directly attached to the signing of the bilateral security agreement. The agreement enables Afghanistan to continue receiving aid and military cooperation from the international community. The US residual forces in Afghanistan after 2014 would be further reduced in size by the end of 2015, with a full pullout at the end of 2016. By signing the bilateral security deal so quickly after his inauguration, President Ahmadzai is taking a bold step toward improving the lukewarm relationship between Afghanistan and the United States after the strain of Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement. As US ambassador to Kabul, Jim Cunningham said, the agreement sent a broader signal to Afghanistan and to the region about the ongoing US commitment to Afghanistan.