ISLAMABAD — A group of visiting U.S. senators met Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to urge him to sign a key bilateral security agreement without further delay. The lawmakers also warned the Afghan leader against releasing dozens of dangerous prisoners without putting them on trial, saying it would have a devastating impact on ties between the two countries.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were part of the visiting American delegation that held detailed talks with President Karzai to emphasize the need for urgently signing the bilateral security agreement.
Senator Graham later told reporters in Kabul that progress on the pact is crucial before President Barack Obama’s annual State of the Union speech to the American people.
“What is he going to tell the American people about Afghanistan? If there is no bilateral security agreement signed, he cannot commit troops in the future and Congress cannot fund," Graham said. "So, time is running out. We need to get this agreement done in a mutually beneficial way soon, or we will lose the opportunity to secure Afghanistan and we will have another Iraq in the making.”
The agreement would allow for a reduced U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after NATO ends its combat mission by the end of this year. The troops would advise and train Afghan forces in addition to continue conducting counterterrorism operations.
President Karzai has refused to sign the accord unless certain conditions are met. They include halting U.S. raids on Afghan homes and helping the Kabul government open peace talks with the Taliban.
Senator McCain told reporters that without the security deal, the United States would not be able to station its soldiers past 2014.
“I am confident from our conversation that the differences have been narrowed to a point where we could get them resolved in a very short time period," McCain said.
Senator Graham said his delegation also warned Mr. Karzai that the planned release of a group of 88 dangerous detainees from an Afghan prison would deal a blow to bilateral ties because it would violate agreements already in place to deal with these inmates.
“There is much evidence to suggest a wrongdoing," Graham said. "Over 60 coalition forces have been killed as a result of actions by these 88 and 57 Afghans have been killed by the actions of these 88. If this release goes forward, it would be undercutting the (Afghan) rule of law, it would be a major step backward and it would have an unbelievably negative impact on the future relationship between the American people and the Afghan government.”
The senator says the detainees must be put on trial in Afghan courts to let the judicial process decide their fate. He says the United States hopes President Karzai will intervene to halt the release of the prisoners.
The Afghan president has created a special review committee to investigate and determine the fate of prisoners captured by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces in counterterrorism operations. The panel has recently set free more than 500 detainees, while it plans the release of the 88 in question from the Bagram prison north of Kabul.