During the last couple of weeks, the media debate about establishment of long-term or permanent US military bases in Afghanistan has intensified. Though the US officials like Ambassador Eikenberry, Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates have denied America wants long-term presence in Afghanistan, but President Karzai after coming from the Munich Security Conference confirmed there are talks about future US military presence. And since then, it has been the debate of editorial and opinion pages of newspapers, as well as TV talk shows. I had written an op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan about it earlier.
On Friday Mar 04, the Shahrwand (Citizen) Foundation in Kabul had organized a conference “Analysis of Permanent US Military Presence and Stability in Afghanistan and the Region”. What made the conference notable and lead story of prime time news hours of TVs on Friday and headlines of Saturday papers were keynote speeches of former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh. More than 500 people including high officials of the Government, MPs, analysts, academics and journalists attended the one-day conference. Starting the conference, founder and head of Shahrwand Foundation Fareed Khuroush , a professor of political science and law, said the conference is to discuss what impacts would permanent US military bases in Afghanistan have for our stability. Below I am quoting key points of the speeches of prominent analyst Aziz Royesh, former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh.
“When there is talk of the long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, those who view it optimistically explain two factors; first, we live in an instable region with instable neighbors who stretch their feet out of their borders. Second, the situation inside the country is instable. Maybe there are some people who strongly oppose long-term military presence of the US in Afghanistan saying we are a sovereign country, thus American should leave. I ask them, do you have guarantee for common citizens of this country to live with security? Taliban should also answer this question that if the Americans leave Afghanistan, what is the guarantee for me as a common citizen of Afghanistan that you [Taliban] won’t water your sword with my throat?
It’s clear that the US has come to Afghanistan for their interests, but our rulers have not defined our national interest from American presence. The least interest from American presence is that it assures our security and we use words instead of rocks and sticks in our parliament.”
“My suggestion to the political leadership of my country is that place our national interest on top. Make your talks with the Americans clear and reserve unity in this decision. My other suggestion is that make honest and friendly talks with our neighbors. At present we see that regional countries are making groupings and preparations for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and may bring what havoc on our nation. We have seen it before, and this nation does not deserve to experience the havoc once again.
Our national interest is that we must stand against regional rivalries that cause the conflict in our country, and for that we need an international strategic ally.
Our national interest is that we must win the war on terror and fight against the terrorists and those who bring horror to our nation.”
“Establishment of long-term US military bases in Afghanistan is the basic need of our country. From economic perspective, Afghanistan is not capable of launching mega projects through its national revenue, and for investment in economic infrastructure, only western countries and organizations can help us.
There has been no change in the strategy and behavior of insurgents. It’s the same Taliban, the same Al Qaeda and the same two-face Pakistan. Now if we oppose with our strategic ally America, with what guarantee? …with what strength? There is no change in the thinking and strategy of our enemy. Therefore, unless there is fundamental change, it is not in our interest to say we don’t need the Americans.
Today if America has problem in Afghanistan, it’s not because they can’t kill Taliban, not because they can’t bombard Waziristan, it is because the political front which is Kabul, and I name it the political Kabul, has created another story for itself, and has decided to become a supervising force with nothing. One day they condemn NATO, the other day Taliban, and has placed itself on the chair of a judge. It’s not viable. We must know and define our way and direction that after all, from strategic view we will remain the ally of the world or ally of North Waziristan? Its is impossible to carry both directions on one hand. Compromise with fundamentalist forces means that your political base is Waziristan, Wana and Miramshah.
President Karzai is trying to justify his plan of peace with Taliban and ignore the suicide attacks of this group and show the “positive” picture of Taliban to the people of Afghanistan by saying “the Taliban I know, do not do these things [suicide attacks]”.
The conference of Shahrwand Foundation was a great move to mobilize public opinion about the need of long-term American military presence in Afghanistan. The conclusion of all the speakers were that our national leaders and politicians should support establishment of permanent US bases as it will avoid interference of our neighboring countries, help end the conflict and continue the existential pace of current political system.
It’s not about American interests, its is our interest. The continuity of the current system depends on presence of foreign troops. Much of our bleeding in the past 30 years is because of the regional proxy wars and interferences. Regional countries, particularly our two immediate neighbors, do not want presence of American troops in Afghanistan. They eye their interests and have been dreaming “strategic depth” and influence drafting their plans of post-American Afghanistan.
The opposition leaders, tribal politicians, MPs, opinion makers and religious scholars should do what Atmar, Saleh and Royesh did, come to public and call the Government to be clear in its strategy for our national security and support and call for long-term US military presence in Afghanistan to keep the ten years of relative stability going.
President Karzai is heading towards self-prioritized narrow-sighted plans that are only for the sake of the continuity of his rule, not worrying about the future of the country. The current efforts of reconciliation with Taliban are so ambiguous that the Government itself is not confident about the outcome. They are pursuing it with the mind of just giving a try. That’s not how our decision makers should be playing with the risks to our national security and the continuity of the political system.