KABUL, Afghanistan — An angry President Hamid Karzai on Sunday rejected the final recommendation of a four-day Afghan grand assembly that he should promptly sign a security agreement with the United States.
Even though he had convened the assembly, or loya jirga, to ratify his decision to sign the agreement, Karzai told the more than 2,500 assembled elders that he would do so only after further negotiations.
He also demanded that U.S. forces cease raids on Afghan homes immediately, saying he would nullify the bilateral security agreement if there was even one more such raid.
The proposed agreement would allow deployment of 8,000-12,000 military advisers, most of them American, to train and provide logistical support for Afghan security forces fighting an insurgency that controls much of the rural areas of the country. The advisers would remain at least 10 years after 2014, when combat forces are to withdraw.
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In practical terms, Karzai’s demand would mean an end to the last remaining combat missions being carried out by U.S. troops on a regular basis: raids by elite units aimed at capturing high-profile insurgents.
“From this moment on, America’s searching of houses, blocking of roads and streets, military operations are over, and our people are free in their country,” Karzai said, his voice filled with emotion.
“If Americans raid a house again, then this agreement will not be signed,” he added, with the U.S. ambassador, James Cunningham, in the audience.
Later in the day, Cunningham issued a statement that avoided any mention of the president’s remarks. It began: “I am gratified that the loya jirga, which represents the Afghan people, overwhelmingly offered support for the bilateral security agreement and asked President Karzai to sign it by the end of next month.”
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force declined to comment on Karzai’s ban of house raids.
Equally worrisome for U.S. policymakers was that the Afghan president appeared to insist on putting off signing the security agreement until after Afghan elections in April; the United States has insisted an agreement needs to be signed by the end of this year to give U.S. and NATO forces time to plan for a new phase in Afghanistan after the combat mission concludes at the end of 2014.
Western diplomats warned that Karzai was playing a risky game. “He’s definitely pushed too far,” one diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
A prominent Afghan opposition leader, Abdullah Abdullah, said: “I have no doubt in my mind there are politicians thinking back in the U.S. about the zero option” — a complete U.S. military withdrawal — “and this will further strengthen their argument. There’s a possibility that will backfire and the price will be paid by the people of Afghanistan.”
The loya jirga, convened by Karzai, endorsed the wording of the agreement and approved a resolution calling on the president to sign it by the end of this year. But its decisions are not legally binding, and Karzai made it clear he was not ready to sign anytime soon. “On your behalf we will try to bargain more with the Americans and then we will sign this agreement,” Karzai told the jirga.
The jirga ended on a dramatic note when its chairman, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a longtime Karzai ally, took the podium after Karzai’s speech and threatened that if the bilateral security agreement were not signed in three days, “I will resign all my positions and seek refuge in another country.”
Karzai then returned to the podium and angrily insisted, “America cannot kill anyone in their homes.”
Karzai’s latest action puts potentially billions of dollars in aid at stake. Without a security agreement, Congress might decide not to provide the $4 billion a year the United States has promised to finance Afghanistan’s forces. U.S. allies have indicated that they also would pull billions of dollars’ worth of aid.
The agreement must still be approved by Afghanistan’s elected Parliament to take effect.
Material from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.