Susan Rice, U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, told Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday that a delay in signing a troubled security deal could force Washington to pull troops out of the country completely next year.
“Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” Rice told Karzai, according to a White House statement on Monday. “Ambassador Rice stressed … that deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year’s elections is not viable,” it added.
Washington was ready to finalize the deal in the coming days following a Loya Jirga’s decision urging Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, the statement said. But “in response, President Karzai outlined new conditions for signing the agreement and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly.”
Karzai’s office confirmed the move in a statement released after Monday’s late-night meeting. The Afghan president stressed his demands for “no operations by foreign forces in residential areas, a sincere start of a peace process [with Taliban insurgents], and the holding of transparent elections,” his office said.
The BSA will permit some U.S. soldiers to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when most of NATO’s 75,000 U.S.-led troops pull out. “We believe it’s untenable and impractical to wait until January to have this thing concluded,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday. “We want it closed. The American government wants it. The Afghan people want it, so Karzai needs to sign.”
Supporters say the BSA is vital because the Afghan government remains fragile despite 12 years of war against the Taliban. Rice’s trip to Afghanistan was planned before the latest setback for the BSA, but National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that Monday’s talks were at Karzai’s request. Karzai’s office added that he asked Rice for his demands to be passed on to Obama.
The Taliban have condemned the BSA. The “illegal and insignificant pact of slavery with America will neither benefit the American invaders nor [their] criminal slaves,” they said in a statement referring to Loya Jirga members. After four days of discussions, Jirga delegates—who were convened by Karzai to vote on the BSA issue—said Karzai should sign the pact before the end of 2013.
Kate Clark, senior analyst with the Afghan Analysts Network, said Karzai might be genuinely concerned about what could happen once the Americans had the BSA. “As Karzai said on the first day of the jirga, there is no trust between them. He does not believe their assurances,” she wrote on the AAN website. “He wants to hold on to some form of leverage, as, in his mind, this is the only way to force the U.S. to refrain from stomping over Afghan sovereignty.”
The U.S. has warned that failure to promptly sign the pact could jeopardize billions of dollars in aid, and that Obama had not yet decided whether to keep any American forces in Afghanistan at all beyond 2014. The draft text of the BSA released by Kabul appeared to show Karzai had bowed to a U.S. demand that American troops would remain exempt from Afghan jurisdiction if they are accused of crimes. The issue of U.S. troop immunity sank a similar deal in Iraq in 2011, leading the Americans to pull out completely.