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Afghan Leaders Consider US Security Deal

The Afghanistan president says that he is backing a bilateral security deal reached with the United States that could see U.S. forces in Afghanistan through 2024 and perhaps longer. But he added that the deal most likely will not be signed until Afghans choose a new president in April.

In an impassioned speech to 2,500 tribal, community and elected leaders, Afghan President Hamid Karzai defended a bilateral security agreement reached with Washington, saying it would benefit Afghanistan in the long run.

Saying he had the support of Afghanistan's major allies and neighbors except Iran, Mr. Karzai encouraged the assembly, known as the Loya Jirga, to vote for the security pact.

But in what could be a potential sticking point with the U.S., Mr. Karzai said if the Jirga approves the document and the Afghan parliament then votes in favor of the deal, the agreement "might be signed" after the April 2014 presidential elections.

The deal is to take effect in January 1, 2015, and will keep American troops and civilian personnel in Afghanistan for at least another decade and possibly even longer.



During his speech, Mr. Karzai read out parts of a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama which promised the United States would continue to "respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes" under the new security agreement.

Mr. Obama's letter, released by the Afghan government, also said many Americans had died or been seriously wounded in an effort to help and protect Afghan people.

A draft text of the agreement said U.S. troops would only enter Afghan homes in exceptional cases - a point of contention in nearly a year of negotiations on the agreement.

The Jirga is expected to spend three days debating the pact, which will shape the security relationship between Washington and Kabul for years to come. The group must give its approval before the document goes to the Afghan parliament for a vote.

The Jirga can revise or reject any clause of the draft agreement, and a flat-out rejection would most likely prevent the Afghan government from signing it.

Security in Kabul is high, with offices closed and dozens of checkpoints set up along the route leading to the site of the meeting. Taliban insurgents, who have staged a 12-year rebellion in Afghanistan, have condemned the meeting and threatened to target the delegates if a deal is approved.

The so-called Bilateral Security Agreement is seen as vital to lasting peace in the war-torn nation, where the United Nations said the Taliban insurgency this year reached levels of violence not seen since 2010.

Afghan presidential candidate Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy says he believes the U.S.- Afghan agreement is important to Afghanistan's future.



"In an order for us to stand on our own feet we need alliances and those alliances, it's best to have those alliances regulated and this is a regulated attempt to conduct our matters in a manner that we know what to expect."



He says the United States has similar security deals with other countries.



"The United States has such deals with Japan and Germany and Korea, so why not for Afghanistan? That is something - but the people of Afghanistan do not know about that and nobody has talked about it, and Mr Kerry, erroneously I think, mentioned that 'we have no such deals with any other country.' That is not true. We have Afghans who know that that is not true, so the U.S. has those kinds of deals with other countries, and why shouldn't they treat Afghanistan the same way?"



The Jirga is set to vote on the agreement on Sunday.

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Sound bites:

(English) Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy, presidential candidate:
"In an order for us to stand on our own feet we need alliances and those alliances, it's best to have those alliances regulated and this is a regulated attempt to conduct our matters in a manner that we know what to expect.

(English) Mohammad Daud Sultanzoy, presidential candidate:
"The United States has such deals with Japan and Germany and Korea, so why not for Afghanistan? That is something - but the people of Afghanistan do not know about that and nobody has talked about it, and Mr Kerry, erroneously I think, mentioned that 'we have no such deals with any other country' - that is not true. We have Afghans who know that that is not true, so the US has those kinds of deals with other countries, and why shouldn't they treat Afghanistan the same way?"

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