937 words - February 3, 2012 - Writing by Shawnna Robert; Editing by Charles Rault | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
The future of long-term international commitment to development in Afghanistan became slightly clearer this week as Afghanistan signed strategic partnership and friendship agreements with numerous countries. Stopping first in Rome on a four day trip around Europe, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti to sign a strategic partnership agreement that covered political, security, economic, counter narcotics, rule of law, cultural, media and capacity building cooperation with Afghanistan.
Karzai also met with UK Prime Minister David Cameron to sign a similar document which sets out an agreement to cooperate on political dialogue, security, governance, development, and cultural exchanges. A third friendship agreement was signed between Afghanistan and France which outlined France's long-term 20 year commitment in key areas such as education, health, economy and culture. The agreement comes with an initial 5 year action plan that works towards Afghanistan taking ownership of its security, a successful national reconciliation, and a strengthening of democratic institutions. In each of these meetings to sign agreements, Karzai's counterpart praised the document as being firm sign that not only will the corresponding country not abandon Afghanistan after 2014, but that cooperation will actually expand up to and beyond the deadline. They also all stressed the need for a gradual drawdown of troops, not a sudden and dramatic drawdown at the end of 2014, in order to maintain a secure environment. These commitments reflect and build upon the commitments made by the international community at the international conference on Afghanistan last year.
While the Afghan government made diplomatic progress this week, the progress was mired by recent deaths of French troops. On January 19th, four French soldiers were fired on and killed by Afghan soldiers at a base in eastern Afghanistan, leaving 15 other soldiers wounded. The incident was the result of a Taliban infiltration of the Afghan army. In addressing the incident, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the tragedy unacceptable. He added that while casualties during war are to be expected, cowardly murder is not. He demanded assurance that such events will never repeat themselves and planned to discuss the timeline for troop withdrawals with Karzai during his visit, adding that France will have a difficult decision to make as a result of the attack.
In the days following the casualties, all of the French army's training and combat assistance operations were suspended. President Karzai expressed his condolences and regret for the loss of French lives. He also reassured the French that real progress is being made by confirming that the transfer of responsibility for the province where the French contingent is based will happen in March of this year. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé stressed that France will not panic and leave in 2012 as former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius had suggested. One official noted, in responding to a question about the casualties, that troops were planned to stay until 2014 at the latest, perhaps emphasizing the possibility of an announcement of quicker withdrawal schedule. In comparison, former Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Michèle Alliot-Marie responded to a question about the solidity of the 2014 deadline back in December 2011 by saying that France is committed to transferring responsibilities and to not remaining permanently. The minister also noted that announcing pullout dates give unnecessary notification to those fighting the Afghan government.
As requested, the French Defence Minister Gérard Longuet and the Chief of Defence Staff Edouard Guillaud visited Kabul to investigate the potential for assurances of the safety of French troops and to assess the security situation on the ground. As a result of this trip, France feels reassured that their demands for security will be met, and training and combat assistance operations were promptly resumed. However, France requested that NATO urgently investigate the issue of Taliban infiltration of Afghan troops. French President Sarkozy later announced that France will pull all of its combat troops out of Afghanistan in 2013, a year ahead of the presumed schedule. Additionally, he announced that France intends to submit a plan to NATO to consider transferring full responsibility of NATO missions to the Afghan army during 2013.
The U.S. State Department responded to questions about the announcement by saying that following the strong statements about the casualties from Paris and additional concerns expressed by NATO countries and Afghanistan, a managed discussion on the withdrawal timeline lasted around 10 days. The newly disclosed timetable was a national decision of France, the result of of consultations bilaterally with the U.S. and Afghanistan and multilaterally with NATO, and is part of the collective process to transfer authority to Afghanistan. The State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland stressed that as the ISAF community continues to transition responsibility to Afghan forces, each country will need to make a national decision about their exit deadline and the community will work with whatever decision they make, including France’s recent decision. The spokesperson added that France is a valuable ally that plays a strong roll in the ISAF mission, particularly in RC-East. Sarkozy also downplayed the announcement by stressing that French troops have been returning since 2010, including 400 in 2011 and 1,000 by the end of 2012. Presidential elections for France are scheduled for April 2012.
In contrast to France’s decision to pull out by 2013, Germany’s Bundestag voted by a large margin to adopt the mandate to remain in Afghanistan and transition back home by the end of 2014. This mandate does not set out a separate and earlier deadline specifically for German troops. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle emphasized that the German government remains committed to implementing the international drawdown strategy, one that Germany was instrumental in shaping over the past two years.
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