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article imageOp-Ed: Media manipulation and the Afghan partial deal

By Ken Hanly     Oct 12, 2013 in Politics
Kabul - Governments typically disguise reality in official reports. This is made almost transparent in descriptions of the negotiating process on the bilateral security agreement that would set the conditions for US troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.
Descriptions of the issues that were blocking agreement list only two main issues that prevented a deal. The Reuters account is typical: The talks over the pact have stalled over two points.
One is a U.S. request to run independent counter-terrorism missions on Afghan territory, which have long infuriated Karzai. The Afghans instead want the United States to pass on information and let them handle the action.The second sticking point is a U.S. refusal to guarantee protection from foreign forces as it could lead to offensive action against another ally, neighboring Pakistan.
When I read this I was completely puzzled. After all everyone knows that the issue of immunity of US troops from Afghan law has always been a key issue. How can it be that it is not one of the sticking points? Why did not reporters immediately begin questioning how these two can be the only main points stalling an agreement? Surely this is a key point the very one that ultimately resulted in no deal at all in Iraq and a forced withdrawal of all US troops. It would be difficult for Karzai to have agreed to immunity when he had earlier promised that the issue would be decided by a meeting of elders, a loya jirga.
The negotiations were not over a partial deal but a conditional deal. The immunity issue was not being negotiated at all. However, no news reports made this crucial aspect of what is going on clear. The media discussed the issue in the terms upon which Karzai and Kerry were dictating, that the deal was held up by two points mentioned in Reuters. It was never ever described as a "partial" deal or more accurately a conditional deal that they were negotiating.
Only after the conditional deal was negotiated does the truth emerge that the immunity issue was not even on the table at negotiations: As Politico puts it: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday said a partial agreement was reached with Afghanistan on a security accord, but the potentially deal-breaking issue of jurisdiction for American forces remains unresolved.
The terminology partial agreement is used by Karzai as well: President Karzai said on Saturday that the two sides have reached a partial deal but acknowledged that they have still remained divided on the issue of jurisdiction for US troops. Another source gives a more detailed quote from Karzai:
"We have reached an agreement on the respect of national sovereignty, preventing civilian casualties, a definition for aggression and also the prevention of unilateral acts by foreign forces. We reached an agreement on that, but the issue of jurisdiction for foreign forces is above the authority of the Afghan government and that is up to the Afghan people and the Loya Jirga,"
But the issue of immunity that is to be decided upon by the loya jirga and the Afghan parliament is not just another part of the partial agreement, it is a key condition for their being any agreement at all. It is not merely another part that completes the partial agreement. The partial agreement is nothing apart from the agreement on immunity for US troops from Afghan law. I expect that neither the loya jirga or the parliament will agree to immunity
Kerry has made it clear that no security agreement will be signed unless US troops are given immunity from Afghan law.I repeat. A partial agreement is no agreement at all until the issue of immunity is settled. This obvious fact I expect has been deliberately obscured by the linguistic legerdemain of official descriptions and the uncritical acceptance in media reports of the successful linguistic framing of parties that want to manipulate public perception of what is happening. Even key issues agreed to in the conditional agreement are not revealed. For example, there is nothing said about the number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan.
Now the US can triumphantly announce that they have met their deadline for an agreement by the end of October by having this "partial agreement" in place when in fact they have no agreement at all until the immunity issue is settled.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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