Will the jirga play the American game? Probably not.
The US wants to leave some troops in Afghanistan after it officially ends its war next year. A sticking point about an agreement is reluctance on the part of the Kabul government to grant exemption to US troops from prosecution under Afghan law should they commit a civil crime. Obviously, soldiers sometimes behave badly, and it seems proper that in such instances they should face the jurisdiction of the country in which their delinquency occurs. And thereby hangs a tale. Many years ago I served in the British army in Cyprus where our soldiers occasionally enjoyed themselves excessively and created mayhem. On the night of one such incident I happened to be regimental orderly officer and was telephoned by the military police who said that one of our chaps had been arrested by the Cypriot police for being even more obstreperous than usual.
Indeed, the hostelry in which he had been socially engaged was now a shattered remnant of its former self and the local police had clapped him inside. So, said the MP corporal, would I please give the usual legal permission to take Gunner Lorimer out of the hands of the civilian police and bring him to our regimental guardroom? It was, of course, in any British colony, quite unthinkable that a soldier might be dealt with by the natives, no matter how civilised they might be – and no matter in how uncivilised a manner he may have conducted himself.
As it happened, Gunner Lorimer was one of my own troop, and, while a good fellow, rather needed to be taught a lesson about behaving himself, so I said – No; I wouldn’t give the order, and it would do him good to spend a night in a horrible Cypriot nick; then next day they could pick him up and deliver him to face army justice in due course. The MP corporal laughed and said words to the effect that “Cor, Mr Cloughley, you are a one; that’s great; it’ll serve him right – but you’ll cop it, Sir.” And, as usual for an MP corporal, he was accurate in his prediction: it served Lorimer right, because his hangover diet next day was fish heads, unripe olives and tummy-running water in a cell whose amenities would have attracted the appreciation of a masochistic Spartan. He was brought back in a chastened condition, and word got round the garrison that if you were a bit naughty down town you might not be taken to the comparative comfort of your regimental guardroom but could spend some time in a Cypriot slammer, and there was a fall in the number of incidents of extreme exuberance. But the corporal was also right in saying that I would ‘cop it’, because, at attention in front of the adjutant the next day I was told that British soldiers could not possibly be subjected to local legal processes and that I would perform a week’s duty as orderly officer to ensure that I would bear this in mind, which I have done for all these years. It was rather like the present nonsense about jurisdiction over US soldiers in Afghanistan. Washington insists that if a US soldier is alleged to have committed a crime in Afghanistan, no matter its gravity, he must be taken out of the country and tried under US law.
In justification of this contention, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that, “We have great respect for Afghan sovereignty…But where we have forces in any part of the world…wherever our forces are found, they operate under the same standard. We are not singling out Afghanistan for any separate standard. We are defending exactly what the constitutional laws of the United States require.”
He was talking nonsense. (And I’m sad to say that because I admire him. I don’t know him, of course, but we served in Vietnam at the same time and I respect his later stance on the futility of that war.) In March this year two US sailors were sent to prison by a Japanese court for raping a woman in Okinawa, so there is no question of it being ‘constitutional law’ for members of the US armed forces to be exempt from local trial when they commit crimes in foreign countries. After the US invaded Iraq and destroyed the country it had subjected to vicious sanctions for so long it sought to maintain a military presence there indefinitely, but the Iraqi government refused to allow a Status of Forces Agreement that would, as defence secretary Leon Panetta put it, “provide the appropriate immunity for our soldiers.” Why should it? Just why should US soldiers be exempt from prosecution under the national laws of any country? Or any soldiers, anywhere, for that matter? But this is what America wants in Afghanistan, through a ‘bilateral security agreement.’ President Karzai has dodged making a decision, saying it “is beyond the capacity of the Afghan government, and only the Afghan people maintain the authority to decide on it”, which is garbage, because he could easily have said yes or no. But he’s leaving it to a loya jirga that will hold a jamboree in mid-November. And what will happen if the CIA can’t bribe a majority of the 3,000-plus jirga representatives to vote in favour of surrendering their pride? They’re trying hard to do so: the amounts involved are large, and it is said that at least one intermediary has vanished with a shrink-wrapped package rather than passing it to a man not unknown in the north of the country.
I have to admit to a chuckle about that, if only because I wonder under whose law he might be prosecuted in Dubai. But the question remains: will the jirga play the American game? Probably not.
The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com