NEW DELHI: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he would not be bullied into signing a security pact to allow United States (US) troops to stay on after next year, as he tried to persuade India on Friday to provide more military assistance.
Karzai was to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid at the start of a three-day visit to India, with the United States hoping New Delhi can persuade him to ink the troubled pact.
A frequent visitor to India where he obtained his Masters degree in politics as a young man, Karzai enjoys close ties with New Delhi, which is keen to ensure that the exit of some 75,000 US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops at the end of 2014 does not trigger a return to power of the Taliban.
But speaking to Indian TV, Karzai said he would not be “intimidated” into signing the agreement which would allow 12,000 US troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 and sets out their terms of engagement.
“Aggressive rhetoric won’t work . . . We are not a nation that is known for giving into intimidation,” he said in an interview with NDTV.
“If they have not recognized this they should, it will be good for them to recognize,” Karzai added ahead of his talks with Singh. “We will sign it when we feel sure that our signature will bring peace and security.”
Karzai, who is due to stand down after elections next year, initially endorsed the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement.
But he later said the agreement could only be signed after the presidential election in April, warning against a North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence if it just meant “more bombs and killings.”
His stance has outraged US officials and lawmakers, who have threatened a complete pullout if Karzai does not sign by the end of the year.
Testifying before a Senate committee this week, a senior US official said he hoped India could help persuade Karzai to ink the agreement.
“His upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential, because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian government,” said James Dobbins, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
India has poured $2 billion in reconstruction aid into Afghanistan, and Karzai is expected to plead for further support, including military assistance, in his meetings.
On his last visit to New Delhi in May, Karzai said he had put forward a “wishlist” of military assistance he hoped Delhi could deliver.
India’s foreign ministry refused to detail what the list contained, but local media reports said it included light and heavy artillery, aircraft, and small arms and ammunition.