U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Opening Statement Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Washington, DC
December 11, 2013

(Also see Amb. Dobbins' Dec. 10 submitted statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In my oral remarks, let me concentrate on what I think is probably the most topical and immediately important aspect of our situation in Afghanistan which is the fate of the bilateral security agreement and the prospects for a longer term American commitment.

As I think you all know, President Karzai called a loya jirga, or a grand council, to discuss the draft bilateral security agreement which we and he had concluded. This involved 2,500 of Afghanistan's influential citizens from throughout the country. After three days of debate, the loya jirga overwhelmingly endorsed the BSA as written and urged President Karzai to sign it before the end of the year.

This decision underscores the clear and strong desire of the Afghan people to continue their partnership with the United States and the international community. The United States agrees with the Afghan people. Signing the BSA will send an important signal to the people of Afghanistan, to the Taliban, to our allies and partners and to the region. For the Afghan people, it will reduce anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

Allowing them to concentrate on the upcoming elections and to invest with confidence in their own economy. A signed SA will tell the Taliban who may think that the end of 2014 means the end of international support that their only path to peace is by ending violence, breaking ties with al-Qaida and accepting the Afghan constitution. A signed BSA will assure the region that the United States will remain engaged and will not abandon Afghanistan as we once did in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal. To our NATO allies and other international partners, a signed BSA will open the door for NATO to begin negotiations of its own status of forces agreement.

For all of these reasons, the administration is committed to expeditious signature of the bilateral security agreement. Delaying signature is in no one's interest. Delay would add another element of uncertainty as Afghanistan prepares for the April 2014 presidential elections. For the United States and our NATO allies, delay means a lack of clarity needed to plan for the post-2014 military presence.

That in turn would jeopardize fulfillment of the pledges of assistance that NATO and other countries made in Chicago and Tokyo in 2012. As Ambassador Rice made clear during her recent visit to Kabul, although it is not our preference, without a prompt signature, we will have no choice but to initiate planning for a 2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troops.

Let me make clear however that plans are not decisions and assure you that we are not about to decide to abandon all we and the Afghan people have achieved over the past 12 years. Based on the results of the loya jirga, expressions of public opinion throughout the country and discussions during my own visit to Kabul last week, I don't believe that there can be any serious doubt that the Afghan people want American and NATO forces to stay and recognize that the bilateral security agreement is a necessary prerequisite.

The bilateral security agreement is also the keystone of a much wider international commitment involving over seven countries ready to provide economic and security assistance to Afghanistan beyond 2015. Afghanistan's regional neighbors, with the exception of Iran, also understand the importance of the BSA. I understand for instance that President Putin of Russia, President Xi of China, Prime Minister Singh of India and Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan have all personally urged President Karzai to conclude the bilateral security agreement.

Several of these leaders are no fans of American military presence in Central Asia. But all of them seem to recognize that without a continued international military and economy support, Afghanistan risks falling back into civil war with the attendant rise in extremist groups, outflow of refugees and disruptions in commerce that would threaten the region as a whole. Given this coincidence of Afghan public and regional governmental opinion, I see little chance that the bilateral security agreement will not eventually be concluded.

Awaiting the arrival of the next Afghan president to do so however will impose large and unnecessary cost on the American -- on the Afghan people. Already the anxiety caused by President Karzai's refusal to heed the advice of the loya jirga is having that effect. While in Kabul last week, I learned from the World Bank and other sources that the Afghan currency is slipping in value. Inflation is increasing. Capital is fleeing. Property values are dropping.

Perhaps for the first time since 2001, the outflow of population exceeds the return of refugees. The longer this uncertainty about the future international commitment to Afghanistan continues, the more anxiety among the population will increase, potentially dominating the upcoming presidential elections, threatening to turn these into a polarizing rather than a unifying experience for the country. Prolonged uncertainty over the bilateral security agreement will also erode larger international support for Afghanistan.

In Tokyo and in Chicago in 2012, the international community pledged billions of dollars to support the Afghan Security Forces and the Afghan economy beyond 2014. As in the United States, fulfillment of these pledges is dependent upon public support and parliamentary approval. Prolonged delay in concluding the bilateral security agreement and the also required NATO equivalent agreement can only diminish the prospect that these pledges will be fully met.

In sum, Mr. Chairman, I continue to believe that the bilateral security agreement will ultimately be concluded. But I am seriously dismayed at the cost to the Afghan people that delay -- that significant further delay will cause. Thank you.