In an historic decision, Afghanistan’s assembly of tribal and community elders, the Loya Jirga, overall approved a multi-page Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. But it is still unclear when the deal will be signed.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the decision by 2,500 tribal and community leaders to approve the security deal. But in a 45-minute speech Sunday, the Afghan leader held fast to his decision to not sign the agreement right away, saying he first wanted to see peace and security in the country as well as free and fair presidential elections in 2014.
“Peace is our condition with America. America should bring peace to us. I know if they stand with us honestly, it will happen," he said.
President Karzai also stipulated there could be no more U.S. military raids on Afghan homes.
U.S. officials have rejected a delay, saying they would not be able to form long-term plans on a troop presence without an agreement in place by the end of this year. U.S.-led international combat forces in Afghanistan are set to withdraw by the end of next year.
The Afghan leader’s decision ran directly counter to the call by the head of the Loya Jirga, former president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi that he sign the pact before the end of the year.
Washington also has insisted the agreement should be signed before 2014. The political brinkmanship between Karzai and Washington has marked their rocky relationship for the past eight years of his presidency.
Analyst Idriss Rahmani of AIR Consulting in Kabul said Karzai is trying to mitigate the risks to himself and his clan for having made a deal with foreign forces, and he is willing to delay signing until he gets some assurances.
“He is basically asking for political assurance post-2014," Rahmani said. "I think he’s asking Americans that 'I want to see a political system post 2014 that is friendly to me and friendly to my political allies."
To that end, Rahmani says, the Afghan leader has pushed the Americans to end the Taliban insurgency through negotiating a peace settlement, and called the Loya Jirga to ensure the responsibility for allowing U.S. forces to remain is spread as widely as possible.
The 10-year deal would allow a limited number of U.S. troops and U.S. defense personnel to remain in bases across the country. Their main missions will be to train, equip and assist the emerging Afghan security forces, and prevent al-Qaida and related terrorist networks from using the country as a base.
On the wintry streets of Kabul, Hajighulam Sakhi says he agreed with the Loya Jirga’s decision, “We are happy with the decision of the Loya Jirga to approve the BSA [Bilateral Security Agreement]. It will benefit the nation and we welcome it.”
The meeting took place in central Kabul under heavy security. Several days before it opened a bomb exploded 500 meters from the venue. It was an acute reminder of the insecurity that still wracks the country after 12 years. Afghan intelligence agencies said Sunday they had prevented additional attacks, and had seized quantities of ammunition and suicide bombers moving in Kabul. They did not give further details.
Speaking to the gathered leaders, Karzai pointed out the benefits of the security deal, while threatening to call the whole thing off if U.S. raids of Afghan homes continued. The raids have been deeply unpopular with Afghans, and the new security pact states such raids will only happen under emergency conditions when the life or limb of an American is at risk.
Kate Clark with the Afghanistan Analysts Network says this kind of speech is vintage Karzai.
“He has to present Afghanistan as the senior player in this relationship, as Afghanistan not only benefiting. but also sort of, yes, you know, allowing the foreigners to help,” she said.
Clark says the security deal, and the roughly $8 billion a year that comes with it to pay Afghan security forces and strengthen civilian institutions, are crucial to Afghanistan's future. "You do not want men with arms not being paid, that is very, very dangerous. So, that’s one thing," she says.
"The second thing is that the NATO mission is dependent on the American mission. If there is no BSA, there is no NATO training mission, and that’s partly political, but partly just practical: the need the American medevacing, air support, logistics and so on.”
The Jirga members also delivered a list of 31 recommended amendments to the security document. The amendments included: the release of all 19 Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo; banning the United States from using communications in Afghanistan to spy on Afghans; and and barring U.S. use of Afghan soil for operations against Afghanistan's neighbors.
Afghanistan is bordered by Iran and Pakistan, as well as China and Central Asia.
Rahmani says the amendments may give Karzai the space to try to negotiate further with Washington, and delay the signing process until after the elections. The Americans, he says, "will have to figure out how much they can digest, how much they can consume."
If accepted and signed by Kabul and Washington, the security agreement would come into effect January 1, 2015, after the final departure of all international combat forces from Afghanistan.