Following talks at the White House, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US President Barack Obama threw their weight behind tentative Afghan reconciliation efforts with Taliban insurgents, endorsing the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar in the hopes of bringing insurgents to inter-Afghan talks.
Signalling a narrowing of differences, President Karzai on Friday also appeared to give ground in talks with President Obama on US demands for immunity from prosecution for any American troops who stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Such a concession could allow Obama to keep at least a small residual force there post-2014.
President Karzai voiced his satisfaction over the US president’s agreement to turn over control of detention centres to Afghan authorities, a source of dispute between their countries, although the White House released no details of the accord on that subject.
President Obama made it clear that unless the Afghan government agreed to legal immunity for US troops, he would withdraw them all after 2014.
Karzai, who criticised Nato over civilian deaths in Afghanistan, said that with President Obama’s agreement to transfer detention centres and the planned withdrawal of US forces from Afghan villages, “I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity,” in a bilateral security pact being negotiated.
President Obama and President Karzai also agreed to speed up the handover of combat operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, raising the prospect of an accelerated US withdrawal from the country and underscoring President Obama’s determination to wind down the war.
“By the end of next year, 2014, the transition will be complete,” President Obama said at a news conference with his counterpart standing at his side. “Afghans will have full responsibility for their security, and this war will come to a responsible end.”
The Obama administration has been considering a residual force of between 3,000 and 9,000 troops – far fewer than some US commanders propose – to conduct counterterrorism operations and to train and assist Afghan forces.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2013.