The primary disagreement in U.S.-Afghan negotiations for a status of forces agreement is over whether U.S. occupation forces should continue to be exempt from Afghan law. Last week I pointed out the irony in all this, since Washington is essentially acknowledging that it expects crimes to continue to be committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Kabul has this expectation to, evidently. But that’s not all they have in mind. The experience of Afghans over the past decade of U.S. war is that serious crimes by U.S. forces, even alleged war crimes, often go unpunished.
That’s why Amnesty International is urging this week’s loya jirga, or council of about 3,000 tribal elders, to demand accountability for war crimes in the past and future before they agree to any status of forces agreement:
“The proposed bilateral security agreement offers Afghans a crucial opportunity to press for greater transparency and accountability for war crimes allegedly committed by US troops,” said Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International.
“Right now, the lack of transparency means that family members of the hundreds of Afghan civilians killed in night raids and airstrikes by U.S. forces lack any information about the progress of U.S. military investigations, or even about whether investigations are being conducted. This is especially worrying, since in some cases the alleged abuses could amount to war crimes.”
The Afghan leaders taking part in the Loya Jirga should insist that the proposed BSA provide for the protection of civilians in accordance with international law.
“Loya Jirga participants should require the Afghan government to report regularly to parliament about steps the U.S. authorities have taken to investigate alleged war crimes, bring suspected perpetrators to justice and provide reparations to victims and survivors,” said Mosadiq.
“Despite the widespread allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the US authorities have only brought a handful of cases to trial.”
This is unlikely to happen. I get the sense that these loya jirgas called for by the Kabul government are more political theater meant to add perceived legitimacy to Kabul’s agreements with Washington, rather than some real, deliberative, representative process.
In fact, another loya jirga, called by some a “counter-jirga,” was held earlier in November. About 3,000 Afghan politicians, mullahs, students, and locals attended, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network. The attendees condemned the upcoming jirga as “predetermined” and “ordered” from Kabul. Posters on the walls at the event read, “A Loya Jirga called by the government in the current situation of insecurity cannot represent the people of Afghanistan” and “The people of Afghanistan will never allow foreign soldiers to rule their land and do whatever they want.”