Abdul Qayum Karzai vowed to sign a security pact with the U.S. if he wins an Afghan presidential election in April, diverging from his younger brother’s stance in an effort to repair ties with the Obama administration.
“Without the BSA, there is no security and everything is gone,” Abdul Qayum Karzai, 57, said in an interview yesterday in Kabul, referring to a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. “We still need the help of the international community and the U.S., and I am sure anybody who gets elected will sign the BSA if our president does not sign it.”
President Hamid Karzai, who can’t run again due to term limits, has refused to sign the agreement negotiated last year and has denounced the U.S. role in his country after 13 years of war. Yesterday his government freed 65 prisoners the U.S. considered dangerous, deepening strains between the nations.
The U.S. is looking beyond Hamid Karzai to seal an accord that will bring troops and billions of dollars of aid to Afghanistan as intelligence officials warn that the Taliban may retake some territory. The group ousted by the U.S. in a 2001 invasion has vowed to disrupt the election, a move that may bolster militants looking to upend democratic gains in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
While Abdul Qayum Karzai is moving to distance himself from his brother, many people consider them close, Faizullah Jalal, a lecturer at Kabul University, said in a phone interview.
“He has very little chance to win the elections,” Jalal said. “President Karzai’s reliability is diminishing among people over his anti-U.S. stance, and it’s hurting his brother’s image in the eyes of the country and the world.”
Abdul Qayum Karzai declined to say why his brother has refused to sign the agreement. As president, he said he’d focus on strengthening the economy and improving ties with the U.S. and other nations.
The U.S. “has done a lot to improve our security forces, education and economy in the past 13 years,” Abdul Qayum Karzai said. Without a security agreement, “we are not able to get salaries, equipment, training of our security forces,” he said.
Abdul Qayum Karzai is among 11 candidates vying to succeed President Karzai in April 5 elections. Other candidates include Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s former foreign minister, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Karzai’s former finance minister.
A run-off must be held if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of votes in the first round. New elections must be held if a presidential candidate dies before the declaration of election results, according to the constitution.
The bilateral security agreement -- negotiated with Hamid Karzai and approved by a council of elders that he convened -- would grant the U.S. access to nine Afghan bases and offer immunity to American troops from prosecution under Afghan laws. The president has said he’ll only sign it if the U.S. publicly starts a peace process with the Taliban and ensures transparent elections this year.
Abdul Qayum Karzai said he’d take a different approach to peace negotiations with the Taliban, which has long rejected talks with his brother, whom they consider a U.S. puppet. Talks should take place using jirgas -- meetings that bring together politicians, Islamic scholars and tribal elders -- instead of through government channels, Abdul Qayum Karzai said.
The Taliban are “under extraordinarily difficult circumstances and look forward to honorable peace,” he said. The Karzais share the same ethnicity as the Taliban, a Pashtun group whose origins are in the southern Kandahar province. They make up 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 31 million people, with Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras and other groups accounting for the rest, according to the CIA World Factbook.
President Karzai has said he would not support anyone in the elections and would not allow anyone in the government to work or campaign on behalf of any candidates. Abdul Qayum Karzai said the president should “stay above politics” even while praising his administration.
“My brother is very, very popular,” Abdul Qayum Karzai said. “I consider his government successful in comparison to what happened in the last 35 years.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul, Afghanistan at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at email@example.com