Afghan President Hamid Karzai added to the demands he said must be met before he’ll sign an agreement permitting some U.S. forces to remain in his country after the end of next year.
In a dinner meeting yesterday in Kabul with U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Karzai insisted that the U.S. release Afghan inmates from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a condition for the Bilateral Security Agreement, according to a Persian-language statement e-mailed by his office.
U.S. officials have been frustrated by Karzai’s shifting demands, even after a council of 2,500 tribal elders endorsed the draft agreement over the weekend, and by the delay he’s seeking in signing the pact until after Afghanistan’s presidential election in April.
“Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly,” according to a statement issued by the White House describing Rice’s meeting at the presidential palace.
Without a “prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning” to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan, Rice told the Afghan leader, according to the statement. Under an agreement, the U.S. would keep some forces to train the Afghan military and conduct counterterrorism operations after combat troops depart by the end of next year.
In her first meeting with the Afghan president, Rice told Karzai “that we have concluded negotiations and that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year’s elections is not viable,” according to the White House statement.
The Afghan president sought assurances from President Barack Obama for a “complete cessation” of U.S. and allied counterterrorism raids on Afghan homes as well as the holding of “transparent elections” before he’ll sign the agreement, according to the statement from his office.
The delay threatens to torpedo the deal, jeopardizing billions of dollars in aid and threatening an increase in violence throughout the region.
Karzai told the tribal council in Kabul over the weekend: “The U.S. waited for two years, but can’t wait for only five months more -- why are they in a hurry?”
Afghanistan’s presidential elections are scheduled for April 5. “After we are assured we have guaranteed peace and security in the whole country, and secure elections, I will sign it,” Karzai said on Nov. 24.
“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 endorsement of the agreement by the tribal assembly known as a loya jirga. 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, who asked not to be identified discussing the state of U.S.-Afghan relations.
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.
Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a former president who headed the loya jirga, called on Karzai to sign the agreement quickly.
The security pact was “endorsed by the members,” Mojaddedi said. “The president must give us promises he would sign it sooner because the pact will benefit the country.”
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.
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 yesterday.
In his speech to the loya jirga, 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.”
Karzai said on Nov. 24 that he’s concerned that his legacy may suffer if the agreement fails to provide security. Term limits bar him from running for election again after 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.”