Obama's midnight Bagram call

Obama's midnight Bagram call

The stealth with which president Barack Obama landed at Bagram air base on a dark night was in its secrecy an improvement on the Navy Seals miraculous visitation on Abbottabad last year.

Just as the Seals sailed away with Osama bin Laden’s body, so did Obama fly away with the document that will enable him to show something of a success at the Nato summit on Afghanistan in Chicago on May 20 to 21. Poor Karzai must have felt like a schoolboy from whose hand a diving bird has snatched away the cheese. By all accounts he had been refining his own choreography for Chicago, given his considerable sense of theatre.

He would have wanted to turn up at the summit with his own hand which would go down well with his domestic constituency. He would have liked to be seen as a tough bargainer, one who gave nothing away under pressure from the world’s greatest power.

There was speculation even in Nato circles whether Karzai would like to announce the outlines of the strategic agreement in Kabul, before leaving for the summit, in Chicago in front of the world’s most powerful leaders or upon his return like someone who has saved national honour at the gruelling negotiations in Chicago.

Leadership position

In his choreography, Ashraf Ghani, head of the Transition Commission would have delivered the entire country to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by mid 2013, relieving the US and Nato of their ‘leadership position.’ Already, 50 per cent of the country is under ANSF control since April 2012. The leadership position that US-Nato have, will be phased out by 2014.

The overarching agreement that Obama clinched during an hour’s halt a Bagram, does not terminate relations between the two countries, come 2014. In fact the agreement extends US overseer plus participatory role to 2024. 

On November 27, 2011, Karzai announced the second set of Afghan provinces, districts and cities to start their transition to ANSF which is now complete. He was keen to announce the third and fourth tranche of transition. Will he now in Chicago?

There are other details – night raids for instance. US troops are supposed to be providing a support role to the ANSF. This is not as simple a matter as appears on first sight. It involves such touchy questions as will US troops serve under the Afghan flag? Of course, not. Clever wording is required to circumvent such tricky issues. Special Operations will be done according to Afghan Law in such a way that the US troops have immunity from local laws. The US will cite UN resolution under which their troops operate. Details will be negotiated until 2014.

What happens to, say, the 3000 detainees at Bagram? This is a contentious issue and for the time being joint management of Bagram and other detention centres will be the order. This transition too has to be sorted out. Karzai will be hauled over the coals for having signed the strategic agreement without sorting out sensitive details.

Also, long term funding for ANSF is being pegged at $4.1 billion dollars annually. Of this, the US will pay $2.7 billion, the UK $110 million and the GCC countries the remainder. The GCC will be expected to spend much more. Their being seen in American company leaves them somewhat vulnerable at home, so their investments will have to be hush hush.

Of course, the basic purpose for Obama to have undertaken the nocturnal visit is to show the Republicans as the misguided war mongers who thrust two wars on a nation in recession. True, Afghanistan was a war of choice but now unpopular at home. He would like to appear to be the leader who called back the troops. The troops, of course, will not be called back but that is the music to be faced by the next administration in Washington.

No sooner had Obama’s plane left Bagram, a car bomb blasted a gate of a compound where the UN staff lived. On past record, who knows how many of the Afghan troops will be loyal and how many will turn upon the Kabul regime which is sensibly thinking of advancing elections by a year so that transfer of power coinciding with the elections in 2014 do not mess things up irretrievably.

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