ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan’s president has called for an assembly of elders to discuss a draft bilateral security agreement with the United States. President Hamid Karzai says there is no rush in signing the pact, casting more doubt on the future of U.S. forces in the country after the planned NATO withdrawal in 2014.
Karzai has handed over the prickly question of signing a bilateral security agreement with the United States to a council of elders, or loya jirga, that he says will meet next month. The Afghan leader shrugged off concerns that the meeting will delay a decision on the security pact which would be crucial after international combat forces leave the country at the end of next year.
According to John Wood, of the Washington, D.C.-based Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, there are two main sticking points between the U.S. administration and Karzai.
"As I understand it, Mr. Karzai wants a very specific external security agreement or assurance, frankly something that would probably rise to the level of a treaty agreement in the eyes of the United States," he said.
Such a binding agreement would push Washington to protect Afghanistan from external aggression. This, says Wood, is a direction the Obama administration would not be likely take. Wood emphasized his opinions were his own, and did not necessarily reflect those of his organization.
And Karzai has his own concerns over U.S. demands. Wood says "the other sticking point, I believe, still revolves around the degree of autonomy that U.S. Special Operations Forces might have, or the CIA may have, to continue to operate independently and with no oversight or prior approval of the Afghan government."
Karzai on Monday lashed out at the United States and NATO forces in his country for conducting air raids and other operations that he said violate Afghanistan's sovereignty in the name of fighting terrorism. He said he would never permit that under the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA.
"If the United States and its allies NATO continue to demand that even after signing of the BSA they will have the freedom to attack our people, our villages, the Afghan people will never allow them that," said Karzai.
Analysts in Kabul warn that not having an effective bilateral security agreement to back up Afghan forces after international forces leave could embolden the Taliban and other militant networks.
Former Afghan minister Hamidullah Farooqi says, "Taliban and other armed forces against Afghan government, they also are seeing an opportunity for themselves that 2014, [the] international community is leaving, they might feel they are going to be able to capture again the political power."
Farooqi believes a transparent and successful presidential election in April 2014 and a strong Afghan government will reverse that momentum.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who until September 30 was a member of the Afghan negotiating team, told VOA that the security talks are taking into account the needs of every Afghan constituent group. He says the agreement is shaping into a very balanced, if not necessarily long-term binding one.
"It is a fully worked out, detailed set of understandings between two governments. Second, the duration is 10 years," he said. "Three, each government has a process for changing the agreement. So, it’s not that this government is binding the future government categorically."
But some analysts and Kabul residents are worried. They say the Taliban is swiftly moving into more villages across the country, running protection rackets and extortion rings to finance their actions. And one former Afghan military official said the country's fledgling army is facing a disheartening rate of desertions.