Afghan President Hamid Karzai continued to resist U.S. demands to sign a security accord before April presidential elections even after tribal elders urged him to act without delay.
“The U.S. waited for two years, but can’t wait for only five months more -- why are they in a hurry?” Karzai said yesterday in Kabul after about 2,500 elders, intellectuals and politicians endorsed the deal following four days of talks. “After we are assured we have guaranteed peace and security in the whole country, and secure elections, I will sign it.”
Karzai’s delay threatens to torpedo a deal that would keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, jeopardizing billions of dollars in aid money and threatening an increase in violence throughout the region. President Barack Obama wants the deal concluded by year’s end to have enough time to plan for an extended military presence.
“I can’t imagine a more compelling affirmation from the Afghan people themselves of their commitment to a long-term partnership with the United States and our international partners,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement commenting on the assembly’s action. He said the “critical next step” is to get the agreement signed in “short order.”
U.S. patience with Karzai’s demands is wearing thin, according to an American official. With the endorsement yesterday, it’s time for the Afghan government to make a final decision, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing the state of U.S.-Afghan relations.
The proposed agreement would let some U.S. forces stay to train Afghan soldiers and conduct counterterrorism operations after combat troops leave by the end of next year. The U.S. now has 48,000 troops in the country, and the coalition of allies has an additional 27,000, according to the U.S. Defense Department.
“We can’t possibly have further U.S. military presence there without an agreement in place,” Jay Carney, Obama’s spokesman, told reporters on Nov. 22. Earlier that day, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said no U.S. deadline is acceptable.
Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a former president heading the assembly known as a loya jirga, called on Karzai to quickly sign the agreement.
The security pact was “endorsed by the members,” Mojaddedi said yesterday. “The president must give us promises he would sign it sooner because the pact will benefit the country.”
The Taliban condemned the loya jirga’s endorsement and vowed to increase the fervor of their insurgency.
Afghanistan will “truly become the graveyard of international arrogance,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militants, said in an e-mailed statement today.
In his speech, Karzai again criticized the U.S. for operations in Afghan homes. The agreement would be broken if the operations in homes are conducted “once more,” he said.
Obama said in a Nov. 20 letter to Karzai that U.S. troops will conduct raids on Afghan homes only “under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.”
The agreement would provide the U.S. with access to nine bases at Kabul, Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Helmand, Gardez, Jalalabad and Shindand. While allowing the bases is “very hard emotionally and rationally,” Karzai said, the country is obliged to do so given the current volatile security situation.
In a separate e-mail the Taliban yesterday sought to reassure India, China and Russia that a withdrawal of U.S. troops wouldn’t threaten regional stability. Instead, the group said the U.S. presence is the source of conflict, according to a statement.
“We are unequivocally opposed to any American military presence in Afghanistan and we will continue our armed struggle until Afghanistan regains its full sovereignty and all foreign military forces leave our country,” Mujahid said in the statement.
Karzai said yesterday he is concerned that his legacy may suffer should the agreement fail to provide security. Term limits bar him from standing for election again and extending his 12 years as Afghanistan’s leader.
“If I sign it today and tomorrow we don’t have peace, who would be blamed by history?” Karzai said. “So that is why I am asking for assurances.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul, Afghanistan at firstname.lastname@example.org