ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Hamid Karzai disclosed Thursday the United States wants to keep nine bases in his country after the 2014 withdrawal of foreign combat troops. The Afghan leader says Kabul is ready to let Washington have those bases, but it wants security and economic guarantees for Afghanistan.
For months, Afghanistan and the United States have been engaged in talks on a bilateral deal that would define the American military presence in the country after 2014, when most U.S. and NATO troops will have withdrawn.
However, both sides have offered few details until now.
On Thursday, Karzai said at a ceremony at Kabul University that discussions on the security agreement have entered a “crucial stage.” He revealed for the first time that Washington is seeking control of nine bases across Afghanistan, including one in eastern Jalalabad city bordering Pakistan and one in western Herat near the Iranian border.
Karzai said that the presence of U.S. bases and the American relationship with Afghanistan past 2014 is good for the country's future. But he added Afghans will demand that America try hard to quickly bring peace to Afghanistan, strengthen its security forces and promise long-term economic development. Karzai said he would be prepared to sign a partnership deal when those demands are met.
Washington is considering how to let some U.S. and coalition forces stay in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue the anti-terrorism campaign against al-Qaida operatives in addition to training and advising Afghan security forces.
Media have reported that Karzai’s recent strong criticism of the United States has hurt progress in talks to finalize the proposed agreement. In one of his statements in March, when it appeared that the strategic document was about to be signed, the Afghan president suggested that the United States and Taliban insurgents were in collusion to keep American forces in Afghanistan.
Media reports also say that Karzai is demanding Washington side with his country if neighboring Pakistan poses a threat to Afghan security, but that U.S. officials have so far refused to agree to that demand. Border tensions between the two countries have been running high in recent weeks after clashes over a Pakistani border post that Kabul claims is well within its territory.
While speaking in Islamabad Thursday, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry again denied any encroachment.
"We have just shown maximum restraint," he said. "This post has been in existence since 2004 and, for us, these posts are meant to serve a very useful purpose. They are intended to better manage borders so that there is no cross-border infiltration. This is something which is in the mutual benefit of the two countries," Chaudhry said.
The spokesman also rejected Karzai’s recent assertions that the border between the two countries, called the Durand Line, is not acceptable to Afghanistan, and said it is a settled issue.
Chaudhry also advised the Afghan leader to focus on pressing issues facing Afghanistan like peace and security instead of opening the border debate.
Despite widespread international recognition, Afghans have never accepted the 2,600-kilometer frontier established in 1893 during British rule in India.