Dispelling Myths: Why the BSA is important (and why it isn’t)

Presidential hopefuls are pledging to bring security left, right and centre. So it’s not unreasonable that a number of western commentators are asking how the leading candidates are planning to bring it about, and how the Bilateral Security Agreement will feature in the plans. The problem is, other than signing the BSA, they don’t really say.  A few myths need to be dispelled in this regard:

1)      People are voting for the candidate with the best security plan: FALSE. People are voting for a number of reasons (see our previous post here), including for the candidate who they think has the best chance of bringing about security, but this is not the same as voting for the best plan.

2)      Candidates need to spell out their security plans to voters: FALSE. Why, if people are not voting for the details anyway? Just look at Ghani’s website, for example – the ONLY statement on security reads as follows:

“Whether it is fear of car bombs in our neighborhoods, sending our kids safely into classrooms or national security across provinces, we need to feel safe in our daily lives. It is imperative for me to establish safety throughout our nation. I will help our government redesign programs and partnerships to achieve greater safety through the use of effective security and police services that use force within clear space defined by strict rules. I will work diligently to ensure that public finances, both from internal and external resources, are channeled effectively and spent accountably at every level of government to achieve security for all.”

Could this be any more vague? And this from a former World Bank executive and suggested nominee for the post of UN Secretary General…What this indicates is not necessarily that he doesn’t have any idea of what to do, but that there isn’t much point explaining it in detail when people won’t be voting for the plan itself anyway.

3)      Signing the BSA is critical to achieving security post-election: TRUE (AND FALSE). Widespread public support exists behind the signing of the BSA, which is why all candidates bar one have pledged to sign it as soon as they get into office. Maintaining a limited US force in Afghanistan will be critical to help the new administration find its feet, no question. But really worrying is that fact that the candidates don’t seem to be planning beyond and/or around this – a continued troop presence certainly won’t guarantee security on its own and yet it seems to be the only concrete plan the candidates have. What about reconciliation? How is that going to work with Dostum on the ticket, Dr Ghani? And how are your Northern Alliance friends going to overcome past differences with Talib forces, Dr Abdullah? What do you think you’re going to do that’s any different or more successful that your predecessor, Dr Rasoul – especially when he lives next door? What about the need to reassure ANSF and ANP that their jobs and pay are safe in spite of the likely drop in international funding?

These questions are not intended to portray the candidates as incompetent, by any means – but just to highlight that they are questions that remain unanswered a day before Afghans go to the polls, and that this clearly demonstrates how elections work differently in Afghanistan than they do in the West. An obvious point, maybe, but it sheds light on two sets of extremely high expectations that will land on the new president’s shoulders overnight: 1) from the international community who want answers to these questions and 2) from Afghans who, above all, want to see the results.

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