President Hamid Karzai wants American troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 deadline and he has agreed to all their terms but he does not want to take responsibility for the deal. He is trying to be clever by asking the Loya Jirga to take responsibility while at the same time he has said its signing should be postponed until after the presidential elections next April.
November 21, 2013, 21:23 DST
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to be extra clever. He pretended to play hard with the Americans over the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow American troops to stay in Afghanistan past the 2014 deadline. The real sticking points were two: immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts for American soldiers guilty of crimes against Afghans, and permission for them to conduct night raids into Afghan homes.
Karzai first dug heels on the immunity clause but then gave in and took up the night raids issue. He said it was a question of Afghan honor but he then succumbed after a November 20 phone call from US Secretary of State John Kerry who “assured” him that these would be conducted in “exceptional” circumstances and with Afghan permission.
This, however, was agreed to last year as well but the Americans disregarded any such constraints. Why would they behave any differently in the future?
Thus, when the Afghan “Loya Jirga” (grand assembly of elders) met in Kabul today to discuss the BSA, Karzai told them that it should not come into effect until after next year’s presidential elections. He has cleverly distanced himself from the very deal he agreed with the Americans.
What kind of a game is Karzai playing? He knows that the Taliban, the real force in Afghanistan, are against any such agreement and have vowed not to allow any foreign forces on their soil. Many of the 2,500 members attending the Loya Jirga also oppose the presence of US forces.
The US has said it is “neither practical nor possible” to put off signing the agreement beyond 2013. Washington has threatened that it would withdraw all its forces out of Afghanistan by 2014 unless all conditions are met. This is something Karzai does not want. He is afraid that without US troops, his life and that of many of those who served the Americans would be in danger.
Karzai is already in a precarious situation. He is a marked man and once his presidential guards are withdrawn, the chances are he will either flee the country or will end up dead.
Will he get away with postponing signing the agreement until April when the US wants it done before the end of the year? Karzai told the Loya Jirga: “This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity.” He wants to distance himself from the pact even though he agreed to all its terms.
The Americans say “that signing the BSA (Bilateral Security Agreement) sooner rather than later is essential to give Afghans certainty about their future before the upcoming elections, and enable the United States and other partners to plan for US presence after 2014,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington after Karzai made his remarks, adding the US was seeking clarification.
The pact has to be approved by the loya jirga as well as the Afghan parliament but Karzai said: “My trust with America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me,” in an attempt to wriggle out of responsibility for the deal.
Karzai said, “during the past 10 years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me.” He then asked the jirga to muster public support for the pact that many Afghans oppose vehemently.
This was evident in the jirga where several participants voiced strong opposition to it demanding the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghan soil.
Afghanistan is entering an interesting phase.