After a lengthy meeting in Kabul, President Karzai added more conditions to his signing the deal that would allow up to 15,000 troops post the 2014 withdrawal of combat personnel. President Karzai now wants all 17 Afghan inmates at Guantanamo Bay be freed. He has already said he will sign the deal only after the April Presidential polls. The Presidential Palace also said he forcefully raised the issue of US raids on Afghan homes.
His spokesperson said that the President assured Rice that the deal would be signed, but the US had to give the Afghan people time to see they had changed their behaviour, that home raids are banned in practical terms.
US troop deal near collapse?
A statement issued by the White House said Susan Rice stressed, 'that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year's elections is not viable, as it would not provide the United States and NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence. Moreover, the lack of a signed BSA would jeopardize NATO and other nations' pledges of assistance made at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences in 2012. Ambassador Rice reiterated that, without a prompt signature, the US would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no US or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.' The Bilateral Strategic Agreement would keep US troops (possibly up to 15,000) in nine bases after the withdrawal of combat troops by December 31, 2014. Also at stake, Rice made clear in the statement referring to the Chicago and Tokyo conferences, was the already pledged $ 4 billion a year in military aid plus another four billion dollars in development and economic aid post 2014.
Analysts say President Karzai is worried he will be side-lined if he signs the deal now. If there is nothing to negotiate in the next five months till polls for his successor, he feels he will be reduced to a lame-duck, they add.
The President whose trust-deficit with the US is at rock bottom also wants assurances for help in conducting the elections as well as a probable run-off. Hamid Karzai also wants assurances of American help in talks with the Taliban. He had called off talks for the BSA after the US helped broker the setting up of a Taliban office in Qatar. The Taliban immediately hoisted their flag and put up sign-boards of the Office of the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan, fuelling the President's fears of the US acknowledging an alternate government and power centre. Talks then broke down and the office was shut.
Karzai rejects own council:
The President has also rejected the Afghan Loya Jirga (Council of Elders) declaration that called for the signing of the deal by the end of the year saying he needs to negotiate more. He, in fact, used some of the recommendations of the Jirga to add further conditions. The release of Afghan inmates at Guantanamo Bay is the latest one. The President's strongest language, sources say, in the meeting with Susan Rice was again over US raids on Afghan homes. Last week, US President Obama had written a letter to his Afghan counterpart saying, 'As this new agreement states, US forces shall not enter afghan homes for the purpose of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of US nationals. We will continue to make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, just as we do for our citizens.'
But, even after that letter, numerous calls from Secretary of State John Kerry and now National security Advisor Susan Rice's visit, President Karzai has not budged from his position. Analysts say his defiance is based on the firm belief that the US will not exercise the 'zero-option' (no US troops after December 2014). But, America's patience is running low and the next step in this intricate cat-and-mouse chess game will be closely watched not just by the international community but also by the Taliban.