WASHINGTON — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has not yet agreed to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] with the United States. The agreement would determine the scope of activity for American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Karzai has been a U.S. ally for more than a decade -- but in the waning days of his presidency, he has had disagreements with Washington on several issues, including the signing of the BSA.
U.S. combat troops are drawing down from Afghanistan as planned. But the other part of the plan -- to leave some U.S. and NATO forces behind for training and peacekeeping missions -- is still unclear.
That's because the Afghan government has so far refused to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA. Karzai’s office has said he wants U.S. assurances that it will play a key role in peace talks with the Taliban and stop nighttime raids on Afghan homes.
Neither reason is legitimate, said Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan. "I think there is a smokescreen because he knows that the United States cannot force Pakistan to force the Taliban to negotiate honestly. On the night raids, we have done everything we possibly can," he said.
Scott Smith, with Washington’s U.S. Institute of Peace, has a different view of Karzai's motivation. "He has had several frustrations that for him are real and visceral. One of them is what he sees as violation of sovereignty. House raids, civilian casualties by international military forces. I think part of his explanation of his attitude on BSA is an accumulation of being ignored on this issue despite the fact that he has raised them repeatedly," said Smith.
VOA’s Akmal Dawi was recently in Afghanistan -- interviewing the leading candidates in the upcoming presidential election and also taking the pulse of the Afghan people.
"There is a widespread perception that this agreement is crucial for the future of Afghanistan. That after 2014, Afghan forces alone, without international support, would not be able to stave off the insurgency," said Dawi. "That’s why they believe that signing the bilateral [agreement] and also another agreement with NATO will secure the future of Afghanistan from a possible Taliban takeover.
But if this agreement is so important for the Afghan people, then why is President Karzai not signing it?
"He was raised up to the level of leadership by the United States," said former U.S. envoy Tomsen. "And Afghans look at foreign-selected leaders in a negative light. So, he still has that cloud hanging over him as he leaves office and he would like to push back on that."
Other experts believe Karzai is unwilling to sign the agreement because he may want to remain relevant in the decision-making process until the very end.
"The BSA is the last thing that he has to offer the U.S. and the international community," said Smith. "So, to some degree, when he signs the BSA, he is signing his resignation from the presidency. So, I think he wants to hold on to that as long as possible."
Many experts are sure an agreement between Washington and Kabul will be signed. If not by this Afghan government, then by the next one.