Karzai hedges on Afghan security pact

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KABUL: President Hamid Karzai has hedged on signing a vital security pact, putting himself at odds with Washington and an Afghan grand assembly that endorsed the deal setting terms for a future United States (US) military presence.

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The loya jirga assembly of some 2,500 chieftains, tribal elders and politicians on Sunday overwhelmingly backed the agreement to allow some US troops to stay on after 2014, and urged Karzai to sign it promptly.

But the president did not indicate when the deal would be inked, and said that it would only go ahead under certain conditions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the assembly’s vote was a “compelling affirmation from the Afghan people themselves of their commitment to a long-term partnership with the United States.”

“Very significantly, the loya jirga also urged that the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] should be signed before the end of the year,” he said.

Supporters say the BSA is vital for the period after 2014, when the bulk of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 75,000 remaining troops will pull out, as the Afghan government remains fragile despite 12 years of war against Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban, who before the assembly had threatened to target delegates if they backed the agreement, condemned the pact.

The “illegal and insignificant pact of slavery with America will neither benefit the American invaders nor criminal slaves,” they said in a statement referring to the jirga members.

Opening the assembly in Kabul on Thursday, Karzai exasperated Washington by saying he wanted to delay signing the BSA until after the successful completion of April’s presidential election.

After four days of discussions under tight security, jirga delegates anxious to conclude the deal with Afghanistan’s main financial and military partner said in their closing statement that Karzai should sign before the end of 2013.

“Given the current situation, and Afghanistan’s need . . . the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga,” they said.

AFP

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