With the security deal between the US and Afghanistan edging closer to finalization, some have been relieved by an extended US troops presence, while others have expressed their ire. President Karzai, historically unpredictable and a man of mercurial temperament, has taken his time in coming this close to a deal allowing a limited number of US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Referred to as a “security arrangement”, this deal has not been welcomed by Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, with whom the US has been trying to negotiate a settlement. Promising “grave consequences”, Mullah Omar vowed to keep fighting if the deal was finalized.

Deal, or no deal, there has been little doubt that the Afghan Taliban will not lay down arms once foreign troops leave. There has been fear of infighting for months now, and neighbouring Pakistan is understandably wary of the ripple effects it may have to face if Afghanistan descends into chaos. This is why a security deal keeping the US troops in place in a limited number may not, in and of itself, be a bad idea. In Pakistani interests also, this may provide a buffer against the uncooperative Afghan government. The last high-value target in Afghanistan, a TTP leader highly sought after by Pakistan, was killed by American troops while he was in an Afghan government vehicle. President Karzai was said to be angered by the hit.

Meanwhile, the legal complications of whether US troops would be subject to Afghan law are still to be settled. Wisely, President Karzai has referred the matter to the Loya Jirga, and avoided the burden of making the decision himself. If the arrangement between the US and a sovereign Afghan government is meant to be an even one, US troops in Afghanistan cannot but operate under Afghan law. Although it is unlikely to happen, if this is a guarantee that the Loya Jirga can extract, it would count as a huge step forward for Afghanistan’s governance system standing up for itself.