President Hamid Karzai is facing growing pressure on both sides of a national argument in Afghanistan over whether or not to enter into a security deal with the United States. Karzai refused to sign the accord in early December unless the U.S. agreed to more Afghan demands. The agreement would extend the American presence in the country past a 2014 withdrawal deadline.
“If he doesn’t sign, Afghanistan will go to civil war and Karzai will be responsible,” Moeen Marastial, a former member of parliament told The Washington Post criticizing the president. “Not only military commanders but ordinary people know, if this agreement is not signed, and there is no support and training for the military, the soldiers won’t be able to feed their families.”
The U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement, as the accord is known, would keep American troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014. Negotiations over the terms of the agreement have been tense, with the U.S. stipulating immunity for its soldiers as a term of the pact and Karzai demanding guarantees that the U.S. will come to Afghanistan’s aid militarily.
At Karzai’s, the Loya Jirga, a council of thousands of Afghan tribal leaders, met to debate the security deal in November. According to a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that while the Loya Jirga endorsed the measure, Karzai remarked at the end of the meeting that he wanted to delay signing until after the presidential elections in April. Kerry later told NATO officials that other top ministers in Kabul could sign the agreement in lieu of the president.
“President Karzai wants an absolute end to the military operations on Afghan homes and a meaningful start to the peace process, and we are certain that the Americans can practically do that within days or weeks,” government spokesman Aimal Faizi told Reuters. “As long as these demands are not accepted, President Karzai will not authorize any minister to sign it.”
Among the new conditions Karzai issued was an end to the practice of raiding foreign homes and the immediate release of 17 Afghans currently held at Guantanamo.
Even though there is significant pressure from political leaders to approve the agreement, Karzai is also faced with pressure to reject it. Taliban leaders issued a statement urging the president to end the American military presence after the 2014 deadline.
“If [Karzai] truly understands the real [situation], he should reject it without conditions, from a sense of Afghan spirit,” the emailed statement read, reports The Guardian. “The decision of the Afghan nation is clear: they don’t want any occupier in our homeland.”
If the deal is approved, the U.S. could keep as many as 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, reports the BBC. The deal would also secure $8 billion in aid as well as ongoing training and support for the country’s fledgling police and military forces.
“It is quite clear to us that the delay in signing this agreement is adding tremendous uncertainty to an already uncertain environment in Afghanistan,” a U.S. official involved in negotiations told Reuters. If approval for the bilateral security agreement is put on hold until April, the U.S. and NATO allies will have significant difficulty planning for the extension.