Four Reasons Why Afghanistan Must Sign the Bilateral Security Agreement

By: Zmarak Yousefzai – An Afghan-American lawyer in Washington, DC


This week, about 2,500 representatives from across Afghanistan gathered in a Loya Jirga (“Grand Assembly” in Pashto) to make one of the most important decisions in the country’s modern history – whether or not to accept a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. The BSA would, among other things, authorize a further 10-year U.S. residual military presence in Afghanistan to continue to train, advice and assist Afghan security forces.


Below are four reasons why it is in the best interest of Afghanistan to immediately agree to the BSA and to foster close cooperation with the United States and NATO to strengthen security and promote economic stability in Afghanistan.

1. The BSA creates a positive military alliance between Afghan & NATO forces, necessary to protecting Afghan sovereignty and preventing undue influence from its neighbors

Afghanistan must determine its own destiny, free from the continued interference of its neighbors. Over the past three decades, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have contributed to its instability. The positive military alliance between Afghanistan and the NATO countries, through the BSA, is critical for Afghanistan to strengthen its security forces that can protect Afghanistan from both internal and external threats and thereby preserve its sovereignty.

The U.S. and its fellow NATO countries plan to provide over 4 billion USD to train and equip the Afghan security forces after 2014 – the largest single military assistance program in the world. Military aid at similarly high levels is expected to continue through at least 2017. And in addition to this much-needed financial military support, the U.S. has also given Afghanistan the major non-NATO ally status – the first country to receive such a status from the Obama Administration. Major non-NATO ally status gives Afghanistan access to U.S. military equipment and simplifies the arms exports procedures to Afghanistan.

There is, however, a real possibility that the U.S. and NATO will not provide the money and weapons unless American and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan to oversee how the money is spent in a country known for widespread corruption. While the Afghan security forces have come a long way since 2002, they are not yet in the position to counter all possible internal and external threats. They need the support of the U.S. and NATO forces to help fund, train, advice and equip them.

2. Without the BSA, Afghanistan may face economic isolation that would harm its fragile economy and roll back the progress it has made

Afghanistan has made enormous economic progress in the past decade. But there is now real fear that a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces could upend Afghanistan’s fragile economic recovery and reduce international donors’ willingness to provide continued aid.

Afghanistan Gross Domestic Product (GDP) today is around 20 billion USD, up from well under 1 billion in 2001. The country has seen a high GDP growth, averaging over 9 percent in the past 10 years. Income per capita has gone up from around 150 USD in 2001 to over 700 today.

In the telecommunications sector, Afghanistan had a barely functional post-war infrastructure and literally no telecom services in 2001. Today, the telecom sector is one of the largest revenue generating sectors in Afghanistan, with annual average revenue of around 140 million USD. As of 2012, the telecom sector had attracted over 1.8 billion USD in total investments and created well over 110,000 jobs. With the help of the U.S., Afghanistan today has 65 percent Tele-density, 85 percent population coverage and around 20 million phones subscribers – making Afghan telecom one of the fastest growing in the world.

In the areas of health and education, today over 60 percent of Afghans have access to health services, up from around 9 percent in 2002. Infant and child mortality rates have fallen by 53 percent and 62 percent respectively in the past 10 years. Maternal mortality has fallen by 80 percent in the last 10 years. Life expectancy has increased by a staggering 22+ years since 2002. Approximately 8 million students are in now enrolled in school, up from about half a million in 2001. Afghanistan went from having a few universities just a decade ago to dozens of higher education institutions in Kabul alone.

Despite this enormous progress, it is not the time to let the international community abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s. As President Karzai correctly noted in his opening speech to the Loya Jirga, if the U.S. departs from Afghanistan after 2014, Germany, France, Britain, and even Islamic countries will end their involvement in Afghanistan. The international community must continue to invest in Afghanistan to ensure that the Afghan progress is not rolled back. And Afghanistan must allow the international community to continue to invest in its growth.

3. The international community’s continued involvement in Afghanistan will help promote Afghan democracy

When the Taliban were removed in 2001, Afghanistan experienced democracy for the first time in its history. While deeply flawed, Afghanistan has since then held several Presidential and Parliamentary elections. Afghanistan now has a written constitution that guarantees freedom and equality for all of its citizens. It has also developed (semi) functioning democratic institutions. The lengthy BSA approval process by itself is an indication of Afghanistan’s progress toward democracy as a sovereign nation. And the often-critical media coverage of the BSA and of the Afghan and U.S. governments are examples of the freedom of the press in Afghanistan, which surpasses freedom of press enjoyed by many of the nations in the same region.

But continued involvement from the international community is needed to further strengthen Afghan institutions. Specifically, the international community needs to help Afghanistan with capacity building, commercial law development, as well as counter its rampant corruption problem, which by some estimates costs the country approximately 3 billion USD a year. Forcing the international community to abandon Afghanistan, by not signing the BSA, could harm the fragile Afghan democratic system.

4. A complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces would put initiatives for Afghan women at risk

Before the U.S. intervention in 2001, the preceding two decades of conflict had devastated the country, and women suffered the most. Since 2001, however, Afghan women have shown resilience and made significant progress. But we must not sacrifice the gains of the last decade by stopping key programs designed to help Afghan women, a likely scenario without the presence of the international community in Afghanistan.

Today, 40 percent of school-aged girls – around 3 million – are enrolled in schools, including 40,000 in universities or technical and vocational training institutions, up from nearly zero in 2001. Under the current system, 27 percent of the national legislature’s seats and 25 percent of the Provincial Council membership are reserved for women. Women are represented in nearly all sectors of the Afghan economy. Afghan women are government officials, teachers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, business owners and activists. The Afghan Constitution and the country’s laws guarantee equal rights for women and outlaw rape and violence against them.

But implementation of those laws is far from perfect. The withdrawal of the U.S. and NATO troops would put existing and future programs for women at greater risk. For too long, Afghanistan has operated on half capacity, where its women were not allowed to play an active role in the country’s economic and political health. Afghans must allow the international community to work with its women to help ensure that the nation has a secure, peaceful and stable future.


President Karzai has said that the signing of BSA would start a new “phase between two sovereign and independent countries that will be based on mutual respect, mutual commitments and mutual friendship.” A failure to sign the BSA, on the other hand, may leave Afghanistan economically isolated, vulnerable to internal and external threats, and roll back the enormous social and political progress it has made in the past decade.

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