Afghanistan’s Taliban lauded President Hamid Karzai for refusing to sign a security agreement with the U.S. while saying they haven’t made contact with him to arrange peace talks.
Karzai has been engaged with the Taliban for a peace deal without the involvement of Western nations, the New York Times reported, citing Afghan and Western officials it didn’t identify. The group has not been involved in peace talks with him, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said by phone.
“If he doesn’t sign the pact, we praise Karzai,” Mujahed said today from an undisclosed location. “It will create positive relations with him.”
Tensions are rising between the U.S. and Karzai over his refusal to sign an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and pave the way for billions of dollars in aid money and investments. Karzai has questioned American motives and ordered the release of prisoners the U.S. considers dangerous ahead of April elections, prompting the Obama administration to consider a complete withdrawal.
“I suspect Karzai’s resistance against the U.S. may not last for a long time and he will sign the pact,” Mujahed said. Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.
The bilateral security agreement -- negotiated with 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 Taliban, which has led an insurgency since its ouster after the U.S. invasion in 2001, oppose the deal.
Karzai has accused U.S. forces of wantonly killing Afghan civilians in raids and even orchestrating suicide bombings in the country that the U.S. blames on the Taliban. Last month, Karzai ordered the release of 37 prisoners over strenuous objections from U.S. and NATO officials.
Karzai shares the same ethnicity as the Taliban, a Pashtun group whose origins are in the southern Kandahar province. They make up about 42 percent of Afghanistan’s 31 million people, with Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other groups accounting for the rest, according to the CIA World Factbook.