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After Talks With Afghan Leader, U.S. Military to Expedite Shift to Support Role

January 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
In talks between President Obama and Afghan President Karzai, there was discussion of moving up the end of combat missions for the U.S. military and the issue of immunity for American troops. Jeffrey Brown gets assessments from former State Department official Peter Tomsen and Said Jawad, former Afghan ambassador.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And we pick up on today’s meeting now with two men with extensive experience in managing U.S.-Afghan relations.

Said Jawad was Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington from 2003 to 2010. Before that, he was President Karzai’s chief of staff.

And Peter Tomsen was a career diplomat who served as special envoy on Afghanistan during the George H.W. Bush administration. He’s the author of “The Wars of Afghanistan.”

Peter Tomsen, let’s start with you.

What jumped out at you? Help us decode what we were hearing in that meeting? What was most important?

PETER TOMSEN, author of “The Wars of Afghanistan”: Well, I think what jumped out at me mostly was the acceleration in the transition, which I think is good, that American troops are going to be leaving at a faster clip, and also, on the function side, so to speak, that the role of American troops in combat, as was mentioned in the clip, is going to be phased out.

Also, what President Karzai said on elections I thought was excellent, because there has been a lot of concern that the election schedule for 2014 might end up like the elections in 2009, when there was a good deal of fraud, as you might recall. Then I was very pleased to see the comments on women, the emphasis on gender equality, and also immunity for our troops.

President Karzai, I thought, basically accepted that axiom, which we follow throughout the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, let me ask Said Jawad, what did President Karzai come here most wanting? What is most important to him and his government right now?

SAID JAWAD, former Afghan ambassador to the U.S.: A couple of things.

First and foremost was the equipment the national Afghan security forces are needing. President Karzai is asking for long-range artillery, transport capability for Afghan security forces.

JEFFREY BROWN: He wants more equipment?

SAID JAWAD: More equipment for the Afghan security forces.

He wanted actually the Americans to get out of what he called Afghan villages. And, also, he wanted to have a clarification on the issue of reconciliation. There is a different channel of reconciliation taking place.

And during those meetings, both Afghanistan and the United States agreed to support more of U.S.-led efforts, which is based out of Doha, Qatar.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, let me ask you both, because doesn’t much of this depend on the notion that there has been great success by the U.S. forces and Afghan forces and now Afghan forces can keep the ball going, so to speak, against the Taliban? Is that the case?

SAID JAWAD: Well, even when you travel to Afghanistan, you do see actually the Afghan security forces have acquired a lot more capabilities, but there are certain enablers, like the ability to gather intelligence, air transport, heavy artillery cannon in a type that still we rely on NATO forces to provide us.

And that is why President Karzai is asking for these things, so the Afghan security forces will be able to operate more independently.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think, the assessment of the ability of the Afghan forces now?

PETER TOMSEN: Yes. I would agree with the ambassador.

I think, also, though there is a big question of fiscal sustainability. Things are moving in the right direction in the transition. The Afghan combat forces have taken over the combat role in now 75 percent of the country, but it will go up to 90 percent soon, as the president mentioned.

But missing in the discussions — and I don’t think that this was planned to be announced during this visit — is the question of how much money will be required for the Afghan national security forces, which have reached 344,000 in the army and about 170,000 in the police in the years ahead, and Congress of course will have a say on that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Because this is what we’re talking about, the question of the scale and speed of the drawdown still to come, as the president said, but much of this is about what happens afterwards, right, in 20 — after 2014, a so-called security agreement of some kind?

SAID JAWAD: Yes, absolutely.

Two key issues for the future of Afghanistan is a political certainty. For an ordinary Afghan, insecurity is not so much of a problem. It’s uncertainty, the fact that we don’t know what we are transitioning to. What is next for Afghanistan politically after 2014?

Part of that has to be formulated by the Afghan political leadership. The international community can help to a certain degree, but we still do need to hear very clearly what is in for Afghanistan after 2014 as far as what contribution from international partners, but most importantly how Afghanistan itself sees itself fit in a changing region.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what about this question of Hamid Karzai saying, as we saw, he will be a retired president soon enough? Is that a certainty at this point? And then what does that mean for Afghan politics?

SAID JAWAD: That is a challenge. I believe that President Karzai will step down and he is not going to be running.

Yet, at the same time, he would like to keep his influence as much as possible and as long as possible.

Therefore, I don’t expect that he will be allying himself or endorsing individual groups too early, because if he does so, he will become a lame-duck president. So, that enhances this environment of uncertainty in Afghanistan, where we do need actually a clear movement toward an election.

We don’t have political parties in Afghanistan. So, therefore, it’s important to know who are some of the front-runners. But President Karzai may not like to see an individual emerging, because that makes him less relevant for the process.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, Washington’s relations with President Karzai have been bumpy at many times along the way. Right?

PETER TOMSEN: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: So is there a clear sense, a belief that he will step down and some sense of what comes next?

PETER TOMSEN: Well, I think I would agree again with the ambassador that, even though he mentioned this, the jury is still out as to what is going to happen. Afghanistan is a very unpredictable place, as I found out, and many would agree.

However, it would really help democratic institution-building in Afghanistan and the democratic process if he did follow through with his commitment he’s just made in front of the president of the United States and American public here in the United States, and he has said it before in Afghanistan, and actually left office and let the democratic process go forward and elections go forward and the Afghan people finally, since, what, the ’70s, are able to choose their own leader.

JEFFREY BROWN: You brought up the question of this issue of immunity earlier in the discussion here. This would be after 2014 with what U.S. personnel, military personnel, are left. Did you sense that that was resolved somehow or at least just aired?

PETER TOMSEN: I think it was more than aired. I think that President Karzai actually said that this can be handled and we will move forward in discussing this and taking care of it.

I can’t imagine that he would backtrack on that. I think — and I would defer to the ambassador on this — that his overall focus is on protecting Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and it doesn’t extend to this issue to that extent.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you think? Is this a big issue there or…

SAID JAWAD: No, not really.

Actually, the strategic partnership that we signed with the United States moved very quickly through our parliament, despite the complications that our parliament has. Our grand council, the loya jirga, approved that very smoothly, very easily.

So, as far as Afghan people are concerned, I don’t think this is going to be a big issue. But, of course, it will be used actually as a bargaining tool by both sides. But, at the end of the day, President Karzai understands clearly that the U.S. will insist and require that immunity will be part of the package.

JEFFREY BROWN: One other issue, briefly, is the talks with the Taliban, right, the Afghan talks with the Taliban. Where does that stand from President Karzai and the Afghan government’s stance at this point?

SAID JAWAD: There’s been different efforts. There were the efforts led by the United States, which were centered around opening an office in Doha, Qatar. President Karzai endorsed that, which is a positive development.

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s a new move.

SAID JAWAD: It’s a new move and it will move us toward the direction in being on the same page among ourselves, as Afghans, Americans and Pakistanis. Before we go to the Taliban, we have to be on the same page ourselves. And that will take us one step closer to that objective.

JEFFREY BROWN: Very briefly.

PETER TOMSEN: I think it’s going to be a difficult process.

I’m glad that we are engaged in negotiations with the Taliban. And the Afghan government’s negotiation with the Taliban are most important. We should facilitate it, but not jump in and try to resolve the problems ourselves.

However, I think that Afghan journalist question on gender equality during the press conference showed maybe an unmovable obstacle, which is what the Taliban do with — to women on the one hand, and what the Afghan constitution says to protect women on the other hand.

JEFFREY BROWN: I see.

PETER TOMSEN: You have heard of this incident with Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, where the Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate her.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right.

PETER TOMSEN: In Afghanistan, it is much worse.

The three proxies of the Pakistani military, the Haqqani Network especially, but also the Quetta Shura and Hezbi Islami, they cross the border to take on the Afghan government. They are also very much involved in, what, torching girls schools, poisoning the lunches of girls schools, and killing schoolgirls like Malala Yousafzai. So it is going to be hard to cross this…

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, many, many complications still there.

Peter Tomsen and Said Jawad, thank you both very much.

SAID JAWAD: My pleasure.

PETER TOMSEN: Thank you.

This transcript has been updated. The original post incorrectly quoted Peter Tomsen. This sentence has have been updated: “I think, also, though there is a big question of fiscal sustainability.”