Having a presidential election in Afghanistan is sort of like trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again—that is, if every piece of the eggshell were trying to kill all the other pieces. Thirteen years after the US invasion in 2001, Afghanistan is no closer to being a unified country than it was back then, after a decade of war during the Soviet period, the civil war that followed and finally the conquest by the Taliban.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan votes on April 5.
The chief American concern, of course, is the election of a president who’ll sign the much-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, allowing a contingent of US forces to remain in-country past the end of 2014. President Hamid Karzai, after dithering, shocked Washington last year by saying he won’t sign it. Now, the chances that the next president will sign it are high, since every candidate says that he will. Still, once elected, that could change, and it isn’t clear what conditions the Afghans might place on the accord. Last month, President Obama warned Karzai—and, through him, the other candidates—that he ain’t fooling when he says the United States might pull every last soldier out. According to the White House, in a phone call with Karzai, Obama also said that the door is still open for Karzai’s successor to sign on the dotted line:
President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning. Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014. At the same time, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan. Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year.
But Obama couldn’t have been encouraged by the fact that Karzai said that he supports the Russian takeover of Crimea in Ukraine. Interestingly, Russia is showing great interest in Afghanistan these days, and The Washington Post recently surveyed the scene. It reports:
The Russian government has compiled a list of 140 Soviet-era projects that it would like to rehabilitate, according to the embassy. The Kabul Housebuilding Factory, the country’s largest manufacturing facility, was the first to receive assistance last fall: $25 million in new equipment. A few miles away in Kabul, the Russian government is spending $20 million to renovate the Soviet House of Science and Culture, constructed in 1982.