U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership: Where Are the Voices of Afghan Citizens?

By Erin E. Niemela

As the NATO summit approaches in May, throngs of peace protesters are expected to descend on Chicago to pressure the U.S.-led, 28-nation military alliance for an end to the war in Afghanistan. But for some activists, it will be too late to protest the greatest threat to a peaceful Afghanistan: the signing of the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement.

This widely under-reported agreement will commit the U.S. to another 10 years in Afghanistan, perhaps more, far beyond the planned withdrawal in 2014. It is shrouded in mystery as to its contents, aside from certain issues regarding night raids and special operations.  While the agreement is supposed to ensure a secure and sovereign Afghanistan beyond the U.S. withdrawal in 2014, it does not take into account the opinions of those who will most likely be affected by its implementation – the Afghan people.  Without their support, the partnership is more likely to inhibit the realization of a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.

The agreement has recently been finalized in draft form and is set to be signed according to General John R. Allen, Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  At the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) ceremony in Kabul on April 8, 2012, Allen and Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, shook hands in agreement on a joint MOU regarding night raids and special operations in Afghanistan, putting the U.S. and Afghanistan “one step closer to the establishment of the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership.”

Afghan Occupation for Another Ten Years?

“Most importantly,” Allen remarked at the ceremony, “today we are one step closer to our shared goal and vision of a secure and sovereign Afghanistan.”  But who does Allen mean when he says “our shared goal”?

Allen surely implies the United States military and the Afghan government, the latter of which has been accused by Human Rights Watch in numerous reports for the overt participation and support of human rights abusers and warlords in Parliament.  However, more emphasis should be placed on the vision and goal of a secure and sovereign Afghanistan as defined by its citizens whose opinions have been largely neglected.

In Dec. 2011, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) released a joint report with a group of Afghan civil society organizations that highlighted the opinions of over 1,500 Afghan men, women, and youth on critical issues. Early in the report, those interviewed called for an inclusive peace process: “Repeatedly, Afghans expressed the view that the Government and international community should work together to minimise the gap between them and ordinary people.”

“No Justice for People”

Afghan citizens have been faced with this relational gap for many years. In her 2009 memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, Malalai Joya – the youngest female Parliamentarian in Afghanistan – openly criticizes the warlord-run, military-fed Afghan government as being a farce of democracy, one which places the interests of the West and Afghan criminal elite over those of the people.

Several interviewees in the 2011 AIHRC report share a similar message.  A resident of Badghis notes, “We are really tired about the situation of this country, everyone is corrupt and there is no justice for people.” Even some U.S. officials have taken this stance, such as U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher who, as reported in an April 27, 2012 article by Voice of America, states, “One of the reasons we are in bad shape and have lost so many people already, is we have imported combat troops to try to force local people to accept Kabul as the legitimate power. And Kabul, of course, is run by a corrupt regime under (Prime Minister) Karzai.”

Where Are the People?

Sovereignty should not be determined or enforced by the U.S. or corrupt Afghan officials, but by the people themselves through an inclusive process. UN Envoy to Afghanistan Slovakian Ján Kubiš reiterated this message at a press conference in Kabul in Jan. 2012 when he stated that a peaceful resolution to conflict “should be an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process, because it is about the country and the people of the country.”  Yet, Afghan civilians have been left out of the drafting of the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement.  Given the opinions of the Afghan people and official statements, we should not suggest that the Afghan government and U.S. military regime represent the average Afghan citizen.

If the security of Afghanistan is the goal and the vision, the citizens of Afghanistan should play a major role in the development and implementation of any security and peace effort. Depriving Afghan citizens of justice by subordinating them to back-door, undemocratic processes in the signing of the secretive U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement is unlikely to yield a secure, sovereign Afghanistan.

“We Reject Such Declarations”

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), a group of young and ethnically diverse Afghan peace activists, issued a statement in 2011 on their blog Our Journey to Smile admonishing the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Agreement in solidarity with other citizens.  They asserted, “we reject such declarations made by politicians who do not know us, nor care for us … we want the freedom to solve our own problems.”   How can an agreement which affects 30 million civilians be signed into action without taking into account their opinions, desires, and hopes for the future? As an alternative, the AYPV have called for an Afghan national referendum: a voice for those who have suffered the most, a voice for the countless lives lost to the interests of elites.  Only the active and supported agency – the voice – of the Afghan population will fulfill the dream for a truly peaceful, just, secure, and sovereign Afghanistan. Φ

Erin E. Niemela is a senior undergraduate at Portland State University, and is a core coordinator for Global Days of Listening, an Afghanistan peace advocacy nonprofit.

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