The U.S. Presence and Afghanistan’s National Unity Government: Preserving and Broadening the Political Settlement
President Obama has announced that the U.S, will maintain 8,400 troops in Afghanistan until the end of his term. The international military presence does not only affect the balance of forces between the government and the Taliban insurgency based in Pakistan. It also underwrites and helps enforce the settlement among political forces in Afghanistan first concluded in the Bonn agreement of December 2001, further codified in the constitution of January 2004, and sustained by the National Unity Government (NUG) agreement of September 2014, which laid out the path to resolve the conflicts underlying that year's disputed presidential election. According to that agreement, by September 2016 the government should convene constitutional Loya Jirga to consider a constitutional amendment to alter the state structure by adding the office of prime minister to the current pure presidential system. Since the Loya Jirga would include parliamentary representatives and district council heads that have not yet been elected, and can not be elected in the next month, the government will be unable to implement the agreement on schedule.
This paper analyzes the existing political settlement from the Bonn Agreement through today and presents the challenges it faces today. Maintaining even a symbolic military presence in Afghanistan supports efforts to maintain that settlement. It is likely to come under increasing stress, as some actors, including former President Karzai, claim that the NUG will lose its legitimacy if it does not convene the Loya Jirga on time. Maintaining support for the Afghan state the international community has helped build through a period of political conflict may be necessary for efforts to expand the current settlement to include the Taliban. Any such settlement would also be likely to require some international military presence. Hence decisions about that presence should be based not only on the state of the war with the Taliban, but also on the political needs of preserving the stability of the current order.