The Afghan Loya Jirga on Sunday endorsed a crucial security agreement allowing some US troops to stay on in the country after 2014, but President Hamid Karzai left the matter up in the air by refusing to say whether he would sign it into law.
The jirga – a gathering of about 2,500 chieftains, tribal elders and politicians – overwhelming backed the Bilateral Security Agreement and urged President Karzai to sign it by the end of this year.
“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,” said the statement read by jirga deputy Fazul Karim Imaq.
But Karzai, in his final remarks to the four-day meeting, said he would not sign it until after a presidential election due next April. He also laid out conditions for signing the pact, which include US ‘cooperation’ in efforts to make peace with the Taliban.
“This agreement should lead to peace. If it does not lead to peace, it will lead to disaster,” he said.
Karzai also stipulated that there could be no more US military raids on Afghan homes, a sensitive topic which threatened to derail the deal last week. “If the US goes into Afghan homes one more time, there will be no agreement.”
As the meeting ended, jirga chairman and Karzai’s long-time ally Sibghatullah Mojadidi told him: “If you don’t sign it, we will be disappointed.” He also threatened to leave the country if Karzai refused to sign the pact.
Failure to clinch the deal could mean a full US pullout, leaving Afghanistan to fight the Taliban on its own. US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, said the deal must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.
The US State Department warned that failure to promptly sign the pact could jeopardise billions of dollars in vital aid to the war-torn country.
Analyst Fardin Hashemi said that despite Karzai’s comments he expected the deal to be signed soon. “Afghanistan needs US aid to function and the continuation of the aid has been conditioned on a signing of the pact before the end of the year,” he said.
Critics say Karzai’s recalcitrance on the date might reflect his desire to distance himself from any deal with the US and avoid speculation that he has sold out to the West. In his remarks, the president acknowledged there was little trust between him and US.
However, a draft text of the BSA released by Kabul last week appeared to show Karzai had bowed to a US demand that American troops would remain exempt from Afghan jurisdiction if they are accused of crimes.
Pakistan, meanwhile, supported the security arrangement but said it should not harm the interests of neighbouring countries.
“Whatever arrangement is finally worked out between Afghanistan and the US… [it] should not undermine the interests of Afghanistan’s neighbours,” Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2013.