The ABC of the BSA: Understanding Afghanistan’s Forced Marriage with the US


When Afghanistan’s former President’s relationship turned sour with the west towards the end of his two consecutive terms in the office, the signing of the (in)famous Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US was delayed until the new government took over. Both presidential contenders during the (s)election campaigns earlier this year made it clear that they would be signing the BSA with the United States, but the speed at which it was signed took some by surprise. The hasty decision to sign the BSA on the first week of taking up the office by President Ashraf Ghani seemed like the pre-requisite set by the western countries to making sure the (s)elected candidate of their choice will need to keep on top of their ‘Things-to-Do’ list in the first 100 days in the office.

Given that the US put so much importance on making sure this agreement is signed, reading tweets about it was not enough for me. I had to get to the source and after tweeting to see if anyone could help with the copy of the BSA document, I realized I just had to ‘google it’ to find it on the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs Afghanistan website. Some Afghan tweeps were nice enough to e-mail me with it too, so if you’re reading this: Thank you for your help. The first version which I read through was initially published on 20-NOV-2013 (http://mfa.gov.af/Content/files/2013-11-18%20BSA%20TEXT.pdf) and a second version which was published on 02-OCT-2014 (http://mfa.gov.af/Content/files/BSA%20ENGLISH%20AFG.pdf) which was after the subject picked up heat and signing was on the horizon. There’s no difference in the content except changes in dates and an increased font in the latter version.

Just about every Afghan entrepreneur I know of was in favor of the BSA being signed. Grassroots were led to believe that Afghanistan’s agreement to having foreign troops from the west would mean not having foreign anti-troops from the east of the country.

The BSA was sold to the Afghan public as the holy document of which its signing would mean prosperity of businesses, economic stability and growth for the country. Just about every Afghan entrepreneur I know of was in favor of the BSA being signed. Grassroots were led to believe that Afghanistan’s agreement to having foreign troops from the west would mean not having foreign anti-troops from the east of the country. I would strongly encourage every Afghan who has access to the internet to take the time and read this document. It will not take more than one hour of your time well spent on critically reading between the lines of an agreement that affects our country.

In summary, I found the BSA document to be highly repetitive (clearly written by professional lawyers), which meant extra time spent on questioning certain parts of the document. The parts I’m concerned about were the ones that seemed like a red flag for any Afghan administration looking years ahead to a, hopefully, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. It is some of these parts that I talk about below, which is why I encourage readers to take the time and read the actual BSA document for themselves so they can better understand the context of my concerns below. The BSA technically grants a plot of land to be used as a base to the US Government for free, where American contractors will have full access without the need for any kind of permit or approval of the Afghan government; in other words, what happens in the base, will stay in the base. There’s consistent emphasis on sovereignty of Afghanistan but once the document is examined carefully, there is not much room for any sovereign decision-making by the Afghan government after this agreement.

BSA-Afghanistan

On first version of the BSA agreement (see link above), Article 2; page 4; paragraph 4:

“4. The Parties acknowledge that U.S. military operations to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates

may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism. The Parties agree to continue

their close cooperation and coordination toward those ends, with the intention of protecting

U.S. and Afghan national interests without unilateral U.S. military counter-terrorism

operations. U.S. military counter-terrorism operations are intended to complement and

support ANDSF’s counter-terrorism operations, with the goal of maintaining ANDSF lead,

and with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and full regard for the safety and security of the

Afghan people, including in their homes.”

Al-Qaida and its “affiliates” – for Afghanistan, the only affiliates of Al-Qaeda we know of is the Taliban who, by the US definition, are not terrorists. This statement should be of concern to Afghans because we don’t know who, other than the US, will get to define affiliations to organized terrorist establishments like Al-Qaeda. Countries around the world, based on their national interests and foreign policies, have their own lists of terrorist organizations. For example, the United Arab Emirates issued a list of organizations they consider to be terrorists, some of which even the US as one of their closest international allies, disagree with (http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/government/uae-publishes-list-of-terrorist-organisations-1.1412895). When it comes to the BSA, I don’t see Afghanistan ever standing any chance against the US in disputing who or what will constitute an “affiliate”, given that not only the US but other western countries as a whole have now pledged millions in reconstructing Afghanistan to their favor after the London Conference 2014. By ‘affiliates’, does this statement mean Islamic parties based in Iran? Pakistan? Uzbekistan? The vagueness in this statement leaves it open to all kinds of interpretations.

The second bit I’ve highlighted about ‘respect for sovereignty…including in their homes’ – I take it that once the BSA comes in to effect from 1st of January 2015, we can expect that the US troops will no longer barge in to Afghan homes or expect more democracy to drop from drones? More than thirteen years in Afghanistan should have given the US Army all the necessary cultural understanding, especially on the more conservative southern/eastern parts of Afghanistan.

On first version of the BSA agreement (see link above), Article 13; page 14; paragraph 1 & 5:

“1. Afghanistan, while retaining its sovereignty, recognizes the particular importance of disciplinary

control, including judicial and non-judicial measures, by the United States forces authorities over

members of the force and of the civilian component. Afghanistan therefore agrees that the United

States shall have the exclusive right to exercise jurisdiction over such persons in respect of any

criminal or civil offenses committed in the territory of Afghanistan. Afghanistan authorizes the

United States to hold trial in such cases, or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the

territory of Afghanistan.”

…and paragraph 5:

“5. Afghanistan and the United States agree that members of the force and of the civilian component

may not be surrendered to, or otherwise transferred to, the custody of an international tribunal or

any other entity or state without the express consent of the United States.”

For me, this is a red flag. We’ve had cases in the past where members of the US Army have committed what Amnesty International would call crimes against humanity – in some instances, they even ran their own secret prisons – see (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/world/asia/afghan-panel-claims-to-find-secret-prisons.html?_r=0) and (http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/04/29/360602/afghanistan-shuts-down-usrun-prisons/) – and got away with it after swift intervention by the US government. The aforementioned paragraphs are pretty much an agreement by the current Afghan administration that we would be turning a blind eye to any such cases in future. The Karzai administration was vocal about cases where there were night raids at homes in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, mistaken strikes against civilians or civilian populated areas. With this type of agreement, our government will not be likely in a strong position to make much objections in the way things are carried out by the US Army, since this has now become an officially binding agreement.

On first version of the BSA agreement (see link above), Article 17; page 18; paragraphs 1 to 6 entirely focuses on tax exemption of US forces and contractors from paying “any tax or similar or related charges assessed by the Government of Afghanistan within the territory of Afghanistan.”

On first version of the BSA agreement (see link above), Article 18; page 19; paragraphs 1:

“1. Afghanistan agrees to accept as valid, without a driving test or fee, driving licenses or

permits issued by United States authorities to members of the force or of the civilian

component, United States contractors, and United States contractor employees for operation

of vehicles, vessels, aircraft, or other equipment by or for United States forces within the

territory of Afghanistan.”

The 3 paragraphs in this article are a disturbingly blind agreement to what’s actually been a personal experience for me where a US Army vehicle once crashed the car I was on while on my way to work in Kabul, and they just drive through without stopping as if they’re immune to any form of accidents that could result from their reckless driving. I’ve  also happened to come across other Afghans on social media who’ve been in similar situations. Only one specific incident that was widely reported in the media after much escalation was this one back in 2006: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/29/world/asia/29cnd-afghan.html?_r=2&%20& – even in this case, the article suggests that due to “mechanical failure” the cargo truck raged through crowd of people.

There’s a lot more to the complete content of the BSA agreement which, as per the original terms, comes in to effect starting 1st of January 2015. On a final note, I do believe that our current administration went ahead with the signing of the BSA too quickly without considering to take a step back, and understand the long-term repercussions of engagement in such geopolitical agreements that will be inherited by future administrations and worse yet, continue to keep Afghanistan dependent on the west for nation building – which, by all means, is the responsibility of every Afghan around the world if they want to see their country pick herself up.

If you have any inputs on the BSA from your readings, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below.

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