Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak says Kabul is continuing negotiations with the United States about a possible long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Wardak said Kabul is eager for what he called "enduring arrangements" with the United States and other countries. But Wardak also said it is too early to know whether such arrangements will include permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Prague, 6 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak has reiterated Kabul's desire to reach long-term military and political arrangements with the United States.
General Wardak made the remarks in London yesterday to a gathering of military analysts.
"We are trying to reach some sort of enduring security arrangement with our international friends and that definitely includes the United States," Wardak said. "At the moment, it is just a concept and a wish. We think that there are common interests, there are common problems and there are common objectives. We can come up with common solutions for it -- to come up with some sort of enduring arrangement, in effect, a framework in the security sector and also the political [sector]. And also maybe with some other nations too."
But Wardak said it is too early to say that any new security arrangements will include the authorization for permanent U.S. military bases. He also said it has not been determined whether the Pentagon should be allowed to pre-position military equipment in Afghanistan that could be used by rapidly deployed U.S. forces in a future crisis.
"The details have not been worked out yet as to what arrangements should be included, as far as air basing or pre-positioning and other [issues] are concerned, but [a long-term security arrangement with Afghanistan's international friends] is a definite requirement because in the 1990s -- when the international community disengaged -- there was a vacuum of power and an imbalance of forces which everybody tried to utilize. And the result was that we went through all of this suffering," Wardak said.
Back in Kabul, Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi told RFE/RL that Washington has not made any formal request for permanent military bases. "Up to now the United States has not officially put a request to the Afghan government," Azimi said. "Only a few American officials and representatives of Congress and a few U.S. commanders have raised this issue and said they want permanent bases in Afghanistan."
Jawed Ludin, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said that if Washington does make a formal request for permanent bases, any decision would first be discussed by the government and then voted on by the Afghan parliament that is due to be elected in September.
The issue of the United States' long-term military relationship with Afghanistan surfaced in February when U.S. Senator John McCain said during a visit to Kabul that he supports the establishment of what he called "permanent joint bases" for U.S. and Afghan troops.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, also has acknowledged that the Pentagon is considering such a move. The United States is currently upgrading the status of its main logistical center in Afghanistan -- the Bagram airfield -- by building a new runway. Teams of engineers have been removing unexploded bombs and land mines from Bagram's vast unused acreage during the past two years in preparation for what U.S. military officials have said is an expected expansion.
Bagram is considered the most likely location for a permanent U.S. military base in Afghanistan.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told RFE/RL during her visit to Kabul on 17 March that Washington has not decided whether it wants a permanent military presence in Afghanistan.
"Well, we have not yet determined what we would do in terms of a presence here, but we are committed to a long-term relationship -- whatever that might mean," Rice said. "And we understand that it was not a good thing the last time -- when the Soviet Union left, the United States did not stay by the Afghan people. This time, the Afghan people can be certain they will have friends and partners for a long time to come."
Christopher Langton is a senior defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London who organized yesterday's lecture by Wardak. He said there were two important themes in the Afghan minister's remarks.
"Firstly, that the long-term threat to Afghanistan is not seen to be the Taliban, but is seen to be organized crime, the narcotics trade and so on. Secondly, the reformation and building of the new security structure is going ahead relatively smoothly. And integration of ethnic groups, for example, into the armed forces is happening across the board. And it is hoped that the new Afghan National Army will be fully manned by the end of 2006," Langton said.
Langton said Wardak also brought an underlying message to London from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That message is that Afghanistan does not intend to remain dependent on the assistance of the international community any longer than necessary.
Langton concludes that Kabul's stated goal is to become fully independent -- albeit with regional, international, and bilateral arrangements -- as soon as possible.