Monday, March 31, 2014

Afghan Presidential Election and the BSA with America

It is a critical year for Afghanistan this year. While President Hamid Karzai stands tough against the Obama administration to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, the presidential election will be held on April 5. NATO troops will leave by the end of this year, but the Afghan Security Forces need substantial help from the United States to fight the War on Terror. Though early conclusion is anticipated, Karzai quibbles over the condition of the BSA. As he is stepping down, and he cannot run for the next term by the constitution, the role of the next president cannot be neglected in post 2014 security and stability in Afghanistan.

Let me talk briefly about the BSA, and the reason why Karzai makes complaints about the process, despite the approval by the Loya Jirga. The BSA is a part of the “Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America”. This agreement was implemented on July 4, 2012, for long term framework of bilateral relations. Under the Strategic Partnership Agreement, the United States provides development aid and governance advice for socioeconomic reforms, including education, health care, regional cooperation, and so forth. However, issues like the status of US forces after 2014 drawback and long term US military presence in Afghanistan were not stated in this deal. Therefore, both the United States and Afghanistan started negotiations for the BSA started on November 15, 2012. Both sides stressed that the United States respect Afghan sovereignty and not seek permanent military presence there so as not to pose threats to Afghan neighbors. Despite the scale down, the US forces are expected to support the Afghan Security Forces to fight against still rampant terrorists and insurgents.

The focal point of BSA debates is Article 13, which gives the US forces exclusive right to try their soldiers within their own military tribunal. The Loya Jirga approved this clause on November 21 last year (“US troops immunity approved by majority in Afghan Loya Jirga”; Khaama Press; November 23, 2013), but Karzai overturned the bill to demand new conditions when he met National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul in late November. Karzai raised doubts regarding the status of the US forces at the Loya Jirga when the delegates passed the bill. Though the BSA restricts US forces to commit themselves to combat operations unless mutually agreed, Karzai demands furthermore to limit US presence within 10 years (“Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he’ll delay signing of U.S. accord on troops”; Washington Post; November 21, 2013). His speech startled Loya Jirga members, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel even suggested the Zero Option to urge Karzai to sign the deal early (“Hagel Threatens Complete Withdrawal from Afghanistan”; Fiscal Times; December 9, 2013). The United States plans to station 8,000 to 10,000 forces in Afghanistan for training and counterterrorism after 2014, and demands legal immunity of US soldiers from insufficiently arranged Afghan criminal laws. Karzai’s overturn was taken outrageous among American policymakers. While Karzai complains that security control and decision making are in favor of the United States, former ISAF commander General John Allen argues not to give too much decision making power to him, in view of sacrifices America made and future security of Afghanistan (“U.S. Backing off its deadline for Afghan security agreement”; Washington Post; December 12, 2013).

Why does Karzai delay the BSA process, despite Loya Jisrga’s approval? Ahmad Akatawazai, staff writer of Khaama Press, comments that Karzai wants to maintain political influence after stepping down, as he is barred from running for the next presidential term. It is understood that the candidate most closely tied with Karzai will win the election (“Is Karzai using BSA as Leverage in the Forthcoming Presidential Elections?”; Khaama Press; January 14, 2014). Karzai demands the United States to stop military raids on civilian homes, and hand over Afghan prisoners in Guantánamo (“New differences revealed over Afghan-US security deal” Khaama Press; November 26, 2013). Karzai complained furthermore, that too many Afghans died in the war just for the sake of Western interests. He was disappointed that the United States focused too much on Taliban in Pakistan rather than those in Afghan villages (“President Karzai says Afghan war fought in West’s interest”; Khaama Press; March 3, 2014). Karzai denounced that Americans cause Afghan casualties too impetuously in their combats. He even argued conspiracy theory that the United States deliberately nurtured insurgent attacks in his country. Karzai’s stance is partly because he wants to impress himself a great leader who stood tough against the superpower. Quite disturbingly, insurgent attacks are accompanied by collateral damages of US drone attacks (“Karzai suspects U.S. is behind insurgent-style attacks, Afghan officials say”; Washington Post; January 28, 2014).

It is quite puzzling for other stakeholders that Karzai is so pushy to delay the BSA. Current ISAF Commander, General Joseph Dunford urged the Karzai administration sign the BSA soon at the press conference on January 9, because there was no alternative to assure reconstruction of Afghanistan after 2014. See the video below.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that the BSA is indispensable to implement NATO Status of Forces Agreement with Afghanistan, at the defense ministers meeting in Brussels on February 26.

On the other hand, the Karzai administration is exploring an alternative to the BSA, in case of the Zero Option. While making quibbles with issues like the status of US forces, Karzai visited Tehran to conclude a long term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran, which was signed in August. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told Western forces to leave Afghanistan as they would pose substantial threats to Afghan neighbors (“Afghanistan agrees to pact with Iran, while resisting US accord”; FOX News; December 8, 2013). Karzai turns to Iran because he wants bigger bargains in BSA negotiations, and prepare for possible failure to conclude the deal with the United States. In addition, since Iran started nuclear talks with P5+1, that has removed some restrictions for India to work with them to stabilize Afghanistan. Besides major western powers like the United States and Britain, India agreed to provide military aid to Afghanistan, though the Singh administration expressed their hope that Karzai finalize the BSA (“Could Iran and India be Afghanistan’s ‘Plan B?’”; Diplomat; February 14, 2014). Karzai takes another measure. He approached Taliban secretly, which undermined confidence between the United States and his administration. Actually Karzai was infuriated with the Obama administration as they invited Taliban to the Qatar peace talk last June. Karzai insisted that his government was the only legitimate government to represent Afghanistan, and Taliban’s Qatar office be closed. In addition to backlash over the sovereignty issue in the past, Karzai tries to appear himself tough for the United States to Pashtun-dominated Taliban (“Karzai Arranged Secret Contacts With the Taliban”; New York Times; February 3, 2014).

Karzai’s approach to the BSA is extremely dangerous. Ahmad Shah Katawazai, An Afghan diplomat and permanent member of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan, warns that the Zero Option invigorates Jihadists and Al Qaeda in Central Asia, which will make Afghanistan fall into turmoil like Iraq. Both Loya Jirga delegates and Afghan people understand how important the BSA is. Katawazai argues that a departure of US forces will be a psychological blow to Afghan reformers who dedicate themselves to the reconstruction of their country (“Iraq a bloody lesson for Zero Option in Afghanistan”; Khaama Press; January 7, 2014). Last September, General Dunford made it clear that US forces should help the Afghan security force develop their combat capability, and the cost of neglect would be far greater than engagement (“First person: Top U.S. general in Afghanistan maps out next phase of war”; Military Times; September 12, 2013). Quite perplexingly, Karzai makes fake cases of collateral damage by air strikes, just in order to demand tight restrictions on US forces in the BSA (“Karzai Government Submits False Evidence To Substantiate US Collateral Damage”; Diplomat; January 27, 2014).

In order to override Karzai’s delay, Former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley of the Bush administration, suggests three measures. First, the United States should reconfirm the agreement that its forces focus on essential night raids, and facilitate socioeconomic reforms and the peace process, in order to save Karzai’s face. Second, Obama should tell the exact number of troops to be left in Afghanistan, in order to assure US presence after 2014. This will pave the way for NATO allies to make similar commitments. Finally, Obama should articulate that he is willing to sign the agreement, but not pressure the Afghan side to do it before the election. A mere mention of the Zero Option will erode mutual trust, and destabilize the nuclear possessing neighbor Pakistan (“In Afghanistan, an alternate approach to a security pact”; Washington Post; January 15, 2014).

In the forthcoming election, Karzai’s influence and ethnic balance count more than specific policy issues. According to a recent survey by Afghan based ATR Consulting, Ashraf Ghani leads, followed by Abdullah Abdullah and other candidates (“Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai emerges as leading presidential candidate: Survey”; Khaama Press; March 30, 2014). Pashtun Ghani runs with Uzbek General Rashid Dostum, while Tajik Abdullah with Islamist Mohammad Khan and Hazara Mohammad Mohaqeq. However, Helena Malikyar, an Afghan political analyst, points out that materialism also plays a substantial role along with ethnic patchwork. Followers demand money and future positions in the government to the candidates (“Afghanistan elections: The myth and reality about ethnic divides”; Al Jazeera; March 3, 2014 and “Abdullah, in Interview, Speaks About His Presidential Campaign”; Wall Street Journal; October 3, 2013). Both candidates understand the importance of the BSA and that no other alternatives can supplant it. Ghani was a World Bank economist, while Abdullah served as a Foreign Minister. In any case, the BSA was approved by the Loya Jirga. As both candidates worked for President Hamid Karzai, how will he exert his influence after the election?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Putin’s Propaganda Olympics and the Ukraine Crisis

The Sochi Olympics and Paralympics are politically questionable events. This is the Olympic of Putin, by Putin, and for Putin. It is not just a matter of gay rights. Kremlin’s priority in national pride and dignity sacrifices the well being of citizens living around the venue. While major Western leaders abstained from attending the opening ceremony to express their concerns with human rights oppression in Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stood out in the Western alliance to have a bilateral talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in view of geopolitical rivalries with China, the conclusion of the peace treaty, and natural resource development in East Siberia. I would like to explore political implications of this Olympics and Paralympics, in consideration of G8 this June and the unrest in Ukraine since November last year. And then, I would discuss whether Japan will fall into another Hatoyama error by its independent action to Russia in the alliance of Western democracies. Whatever the reason is, this is contrary to Abe’s new National Security Strategy that stresses the alliance of common democratic values.

The Sochi Olympics had two objectives. First, it was intended to demonstrate Russian power on the global stage, and second, to impose political and military pressure on neighboring areas Caucasus and Ukraine by concentrating security forces in the Black Sea area. This Olympics is far from Baron Coubertin’s ideal to enhance friendship through sports. Let me tell stark between the Olympics of freedom in London 2012 and those of state-led authoritarianism in Beijing and Sochi. Like Beijing 2008, Sochi 2014 is an event to demonstrate the power of autocracy, hardly giving consideration to the well being of domestic citizens. For the sake of Olympic site construction, it is well known that numerous people living there were displaced in both games. Here I would like to show an by Human Rights Watch below.

According to the video reported from a mountain village Akhshtyr between skating sites in Sochi and skiing sites in Krasnaya Polyana, the highway and the railroad to connect both venues have divided the life sphere of the villagers along the road. They are forced to go long ways around to the opposite side of the highway. Road construction has dried up wells for their daily life and caused a few kinds of environmental degradation there. Jane Buchanan, Associate Director of Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, comments that villagers are poorly compensated for such losses. Apparently, the well being of the narod is none of Putin’s interest, who is preoccupied with Russian power in the world.

Unlike Sochi and Beijing, London had hardly any problems with such displacement and marginalization of inhabitants. Most notably, state authority was out in front both in Sochi and Beijing, while not in London. This is typically illustrated in the fact that it was Mayor Boris Johnson who vehemently refuted Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s inappropriate comment about the London Games, neither Queen Elizabeth nor Prime Minister David Cameron. Unlike citizen-led Olympics in London, Sochi and Beijing were ridiculously obsessed with the great power syndrome. Comparing national power of these three counties from various aspects of hard power and soft power, assertive Russia and China are not necessarily advantageous over modest Britain. Both are far greater than Britain in the area and population. Also, Russia is the only nuclear archrival to the United States. However, neither Russia nor China has global power projection capability that Britain has, despite their rapid military build up these days. The gross economy of China may be so gigantic as to rival the United States, but its per capita income is far lower than those of G8 nations. Moreover, who buys Chinese and Russian brands over British and American? In soft power, Britain overwhelms both Russia and China. The Global Times, an English language newspaper run by the Chinese government, belittled Britain when Cameron visited China (“‘Britain is merely a country of old Europe with a few decent football teams': Chinese newspaper criticises UK during David Cameron visit” Independent; 3 December, 2013), but it is China that depend on British and American media fr their anti-Japanese campaign on wartime history and the Senkaku territorial clash. Therefore, great power obsessions of both autocracies associated with the Olympics and Paralympics is quite absurd.

I would like to argue that the problem of big spending Sochi Olympics is much deeper than gay and lesbian rights. Abe’s step out from the Western alliance protest to Russia was already problematic even before the Ukrainian crisis developed so critical as it is today. Regarding oddness of Sochi, I would like to mention hospitality to visitors. Tourists from overseas complain poorly furnished running water and toilets at their accommodations in Sochi on Twitter (“#BBCtrending: Does Russia think it has #SochiProblems?”; BBC News; 8 February, 2014). There is no doubt that construction workers at Sochi facilities hardly gave consideration to customers who use them, but merely thought of satisfying Putin who craved for building them so hastily. This is typical, command and control mindsets of the old Soviet Union, hardly any consideration to omotenashi or generosity to visitors. This was not the case with London. Seen from every respect, Sochi is too repressive to host the Olympic s and Paralympics.

The Ukraine crisis closely related to such a power oriented nature of Putin’s Olympics. It is Russia’s vital interest to keep its influence in former Soviet republics in view of geopolitical rivalries against the West. Meanwhile, Japan's outreach to Russia is quite noticeable. The unrest in Ukraine began in November, and Putin’s aggression was somewhat predictable. Apparently, Sochi is associated with so many political problems. It is regretful that Abe attended the opening ceremony to cheerlead Putin, while none of American and European leaders did. Of course, it is somewhat understandable that Japan finds some necessity to move closer to Russia. Since the Fukushima accident, Japan is in need of diversifying energy supply source, and exploring partnership with Russia for oil and gas in Eastern Siberia and the Arctic area (“Japan and Russia: Arctic Friends”; Diplomat; February 1, 2014). In terms of geo-strategy, Japan eyes on Russia to offset growing expansionism of China. Also, Abe thinks it necessary to placate Russia, in order to settle long disputed South Kuril territory issue since the end of World War II. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida barely urged self restraint of stakeholders on Ukraine, so as not to provoke Russia at the press conference on March 4 (“Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Japan's Ukraine Dilemma”: Diplomat; March 8, 2014). Even anti-Abe Asahi Shimbun agrees to Abe’s stance of balancing Russia and the West (“Editorial: Regional Stability before the Russo-JapaneseTerritorial Talk:”; Asahi Shimbun; February 10, 2014).

However, is Putin so generous as to meet Japan’s security requirements, in return for Abe's cheerleading in Sochi? Certainly, Russia needs Japanese money and export market for oil and gas, in order to boost the economy of underdeveloped Far East. But Putin’s primary strategic goal is defying Pax Americana, in order to claim Russia as a nuclear archrival to the United States and geopolitical great power in the world. Rather than a counterbalance, Russia founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with China to challenge the Western alliance. Actually, China implicitly says that the West is responsible for the turmoil as well as Russia, at the press conference by Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on March 2 (“China Backs Russia on Ukraine”; Diplomat; March 4, 2013). Remember that Russia had been the most frequent intruder to the Japanese airspace until surpassed until China in 2012 (“Japan’s Air Defense Scramble Doubled Last Year”; J-Cast News; April 18, 2013). In addition, I can hardly expect Putin is more bountiful than Dmitry Medvedev who visited Kunashiri as a president in 2010. Russia has invested to lifeline facilities in South Kuril, which implies Kremlin’s long term adherence to the disputed islands.

Rather than cheerleading a dictator, Abe should abide by his own principle stated in the NSS (National Security Strategy) that Japan defend liberal international order, its values, and the alliance of democracies. From this point, it is utterly ridiculous that Japan balance Russia and the West. Such policies failed in Iran to maintain Japanese business interests in the Iran-Japan Petrochemical Project and Azadegan oil field. Also, Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s dream of the East Asian Community to balance the United States and China was shattered miserably. It appears to me that Abe’s cheerleading to Putin is a kind of Hatoyamanization even before the Ukrainian crisis. Abe may have reached some agreements with Putin in Sochi (Japan Russia Summit: Further Talk on Putin’s Visit to Japan”; Sankei Shimbun; February 8, 2014), but they were made in a festive mood. Considering autocratic and power-oriented nature of the Putin regime as revealed in the Ukrainian crisis, his possible visit to Japan will simply cool down the US-Japanese alliance without improving the territorial issue and Far Eastern security environment (Abe’s dilemma between the United States and Russia”; 47 News; March 7, 2014).

Based on NSS principle, Japan is in a position to save Crimean Tatars from humanitarian points as they face threats of pro-Russian militias. Putin’s aggression reminds them of tragic history of imposed deportation by Joseph Stalin (“Russian occupation opens old wounds for Ukraine's Crimean Tatars”; Sydney Morning Herald; March 11, 2014). Abe’s visit to Yasukuni caused unnecessary tension with the United States, and further tension must be avoided. Finally, international sports organizations like the IOC must give more consideration to political aspects to select the host city. Sochi and Beijing have so many problems to hold Olympics and Paralympics. In the real world, sports and politics cannot be separated. Never cheerlead dictatorship. The problems of Sochi and Ukraine are deeply interconnected.