JNN 01 Dec 2013 Kabul : Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, opening up the prospect of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the strife-torn nation next year.
According to Reuters, Karzai told U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and demonstrate its commitment to peace talks before he would sign a bilateral security pact, Karzai’s spokesman said.
The White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions in the meeting with Rice and “indicated he is not prepared to sign the promptly”.
Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, said the Afghan leader laid out several preconditions for signing the deal, including a U.S. pledge to halt immediately all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes, Reuters reported.
The bilateral security agreement includes a provision allowing raids in circumstances.
This issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war between Afghan and foreign forces and Taliban militants.
“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said.
Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga, the assembly of elders and leaders that convened last week to debate the deal, had endorsed the pact with this condition.
Faizi said Karzai also asked the U.S. officials to guarantee that the U.S. would refrain from endorsing any candidate in the national elections next year.
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.
The complete withdrawal, called the “zero option”, would be similar to the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq two years ago.
On Sunday, an assembly of Afghan elders, known as the Loya Jirga, endorsed the security pact, but Karzai suggested he might not sign it until after national elections next spring.
The impasse strengthens questions about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces a still-potent insurgency waged by Taliban militants and is still training its own military.
Karzai’s defiance has surprised many who had attended the Loya Jirga, which he had proclaimed would have the final word on the security deal.
A senior politician in Kabul said it appeared that Karzai’s reluctance to let the deal go through stemmed from his eagerness to keep his hands on the levers of power in the run-up to a presidential election in April, when he is due to stand down.
“He is now in confrontation with his own nation as well as the United States,” said the politician, who asked not to be named.
He added that the president’s demand for no U.S. meddling in the coming election suggested that Karzai could be looking to ensure he has room to influence the outcome himself.
U.S. and other foreign troops have been in Afghanistan since the ousting of the Taliban regime by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.