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The bilateral security agreement between the United States of America and Afghanistan has been inked, but not signed. That would require the assent of the loya jirga or grand council of Afghan leaders that has only started its deliberations. Even in its suspended state, the BSA appears to be more of a triumph for the US than it is for Afghanistan. The Americans have won the argument on three crucial matters. One, US forces will be tried only under American military law, not by the Afghan justice system. The question of the US troops’ immunity had been the deal-breaker in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, too, it had proved to be a major hitch. Two, international troops can still partake in night-time raids — abhorred by the Afghans — although now only in exceptional circumstances. Three, the US will need only to be ‘consulted’ in the case of an external aggression on Afghanistan instead of being dragged into a conflict in defence of Afghanistan. The US’s most obvious triumph, however, has been to turn down Hamid Karzai’s demand for an apology for its “mistakes” during the Afghanistan occupation. The Afghan president had sprung the surprise only days before the loya jirga was to meet. Having given in to so many concessions, Mr Karzai may have seen it as a face-saver. Although the Afghanistan president is likely to have done his utmost to make sure that the loya jirga would be a friendly gathering, he is, quite obviously, nervous that he does not appear to have made the Americans eat out of his hands. Throughout the entire span of the negotiations on US exit, Mr Karzai has depended on that appearance to retain his credibility before the Afghan population. It is unfortunate that he may now appear to be as weak and vacillating as the Taliban had projected him to be.

Perhaps Mr Karzai should leave history to judge his role. Without retaining US troop presence, no matter how minimal, he could not have assured for his country either the flow of foreign funds or the sustained interest of the international community that has proved to be so incredibly fickle before. While the US can gloat over the fact that it has managed to maintain its footprint in a region that is being taken over by Chinese influence, India can take heart that for some more time Afghanistan can resist becoming the sole playing field of Pakistan. For the Afghans, however, this is the beginning of another difficult journey.