Karzai outlines conditions for USA in Afghanistan
16 November 2011
KABUL, 16 NOV: President Hamid Karzai outlined conditions for a long-term US troop presence in Afghanistan at a major gathering of elders today debating the country's future after Nato combat forces leave.
President Karzai told the loya jirga that he wanted Afghan-US relations to be those of “two independent countries” and assured neighbours like China and Russia that a long-term deal would not affect their ties with Afghanistan.
Karzai convened the four-day jirga to secure backing for a strategic partnership deal with the United States currently under negotiation which will govern Afghan-American relations after Nato combat forces withdraw in 2014.
The Taliban, waging a 10-year insurgency against the Karzai government, threatened to target the loya jirga, which is shrouded in tight security.
But with the strategic partnership some way from being finalised, the outcome of the jirga non-binding and political opponents staying away, some critics accuse Karzai of little more than posturing in calling the event.
“We want our national sovereignty and we want it today,” Mr Karzai told 2,200 delegates who gathered in Kabul. “We want our relationship with America to be one of two independent countries.”
Mr Karzai called on the USA to stop night raids and disband international bodies ~ such as combined civilian-military reconstruction teams which play a governmental role ~ as conditions of the deal.
But if the USA meets demands such as these, Mr Karzai said Afghanistan was prepared to host American troops in the long- term. “If they want military installations, we will allow them, it is in our benefit, money will come to us and our forces will be trained,” he said. “Do we need their help? Yes we do, but on condition that Afghanistan should not be trampled.”
Washington insists it is not seeking a “permanent” military presence in Afghanistan, saying instead it is looking to help Afghan security forces with intelligence sharing, air power and logistics beyond 2014.
US officials say a deal could involve shared facilities with Afghan forces.
Mr Karzai also reassured Afghanistan's neighbours, many of whom are concerned about a long-term US influence in the region, that any strategic partnership deal would not hamper relations with them.
“Afghanistan sees its national interest in having good relations with neighbours and want our independence to have good relations with neighbours such as China, Russia and others,” he said.
Those attending the jirga faced multiple security checks with presidential guards posted on the roof of the sturdy tent and police on maximum alert.
The Taliban said those supporting a long-term US presence in Afghanistan at the jirga would be considered “traitors” and “deserving of harsh penalties”.
Some elders taking part said they had received threatening text messages.
On Monday, a suspected suicide bomber carrying a bag of explosives was shot dead near the jirga venue.
The Taliban are not formally represented at the event, but jirga spokeswoman Ms Safia Sediqi said some individual Taliban supporters may be representing local communities. “We welcome everyone,” she added.
The US-Afghan strategic partnership, which diplomats hoped would be concluded by now, will govern ties between the two countries after 2014.
But talks are thought to have snagged on issues including the extent of US support for Afghan security forces, which will take full responsibility for the country's security in three years, and base rights for American troops.
The jirga is also expected to discuss a strategy for peace talks after the assassination of Mr Karzai's peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani in September.
The President said in a statement yesterday that he would announce details of the second wave of places to transition from Nato to Afghan security control in his speech today but eventually made no mention of this.
Key figures such as Mr Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, and former ally, Soviet-era warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, are boycotting the jirga as “unconstitutional” amid concerns over how delegates were appointed.