In accordance to the general expectations, Afghan-US strategic partnership agreement (SPA) was approved by the lower house of parliament – the Wolesi Jirga on Saturday, May 26, 2012. The agreement received an overwhelming majority as 195 members of the parliament out of 199 members present in the house showed their consent for it.
The agreement has a tremendous role for the future of Afghanistan and the post-transition era, when the international troops will have withdrawn from Afghanistan completely. The agreement was signed earlier this month and has proved to generate hope for many, including the lawmakers who have shown it in their favor for it.
It promises that US would support Afghanistan in different ways for a decade after 2014. However, there are certain controversies as well that have been overlooked by many who favor the deal to a great extent. It is really important to consider those issues seriously.
After the deal was signed between Afghan and US Presidents, a sort of unease was depicted from the attitude of the neighboring countries. They viewed that the agreement may give a way to longer US presence in their neighborhood. Both Iran and Pakistan in this regard showed their concerns and asked the Afghan government to ensure that Afghan land must not be used against them.
US and Afghan government both made it clear that the agreement would not create any sort of worry for the neighboring countries. Afghan President Hamid Karzai a day after the deal was signed assured the neighboring countries that the signed deal will not cause any threat to them, "There is no threat from Afghanistan soil to our neighbors."
Nevertheless, the neighboring countries have shown their concerns regarding the deal. Iran, in particular, has mentioned that the agreement may lead to more insecurity and instability in the region. Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ramin Mahmanparast, after the deal was signed, said, "Ambiguity about US military bases in Afghanistan and lack of transparency regarding the military role of US forces in the future have raised Iran's and other countries' concerns… Iran believes that peace and stability in Afghanistan is possible with a complete withdrawal of ISAF troops, closure of any foreign military base in Afghanistan, and the start of Afghan-led peace negotiations." Afghan Ministry of foreign affairs responded that the agreement would help sustaining peace in the region.
Janan Mosazai, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said, "We have always assured neighboring countries, particularly Iran, that we will not tolerate any kind of threat from our soil against them." However, these assurances could not prove sufficient for Iran and Iran's ambassador Abul Fazl Zohrehvand, allegedly, asked Afghanistan's Upper House of Parliament to reject the deal.
This demand infuriated the Afghan lawmakers and certain Afghan media outlets to a great extent; and they started calling it a clear interference in the affairs of the country. Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Iranian envoy to discuss his remarks on the pact and made it clear that such statements could be considered as interference in the internal affairs of the country.
Responding to the steps taken by Afghan authorities, the foreign ministry in Tehran summoned Afghanistan's charge d'affaires to protest over "misinterpreted" information by certain Afghan media outlets regarding Iran's opinion on the Afghan-US agreement.
The Iranian diplomat in charge of Afghan Affairs, Mohsen Paakaeen, once again insisted, "Iranian officials have repeatedly voiced their concerns to Afghan officials … over US security threats in the region, particularly continuation of US military base in Afghanistan." However, most of the Afghan politicians and lawmakers are of the view that Iran is trying to have interference in Afghan internal affairs so as to develop an opposition against the agreement.
Before the deal was presented to the house on Saturday, May 26, it was expected that the deal would receive an overwhelming majority; however, some controversies of the type mentioned above were raised and bothered many officials and lawmakers.
On Thurday, May 24, some news reports suggested that Iran had earmarked about $25 million so as to influence the decision of the Afghan parliament regarding the Afghan-US agreement. According to the reports, Iran had paid the sum mentioned above to Wolesi Jirga member Hazrat Ali to oppose the deal and convince other members to do the same.
The reports also suggested that Ali was ready to pay $5,000 to $10,000 to each of the member who would be ready to oppose the deal. Some of the MP's who had opposed the deal, came up with different opinion rather than suggesting that they were paid to do so.
Abdul Sattar Khawasi said, "Being an Afghan and Muslim, I'm duty-bound to consider the national interest and respect for religion in all my decisions." He said there was no mention of respect for religious values in the accord with the US. Maulvi Shahzad Shahid, in the same regard, said: "I wonder why such statements are made. Waging propaganda is an easy job for all in Afghanistan. This member must be a foreign agent… When someone talks against the US, people think he is loyal to Pakistan or Iran. And when someone talks in favor of the US, he is called an American agent."
However, the Iranian Embassy in Kabul rejected the allegations. An embassy spokesman, Mohammad Dehqani, said Iran had always backed peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Whether the allegations are true or not, the important thing is to gauge the level of concerns shown by the neighboring countries from such pieces of news.
They do tell that something was really going on. The important thing for Afghanistan, at this juncture, is to make the neighboring countries sure that the agreement would not be used against them not only through emphasis but through a thorough discussion with them. It is necessary that Afghanistan must make sure what its stand is regarding the deal and the relations with the neighboring countries.
The neighboring countries, at the same time, must also make sure that they communicate their concerns with Afghanistan but should not try to influence the decisions of the Afghan lawmakers through different means and should not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.