Karzai Stalls On U.S. Troop Presence In Afghanistan

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said for months that the traditional gathering of tribal elders was necessary to sign off on a security agreement that would keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. The 2,500 Loya Jirga delegates resoundingly approved the deal and called on Karzai to sign it as soon as possible.


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning. In Afghanistan, people are still puzzling over the results of last weekend's grand assembly of tribal elders, known as the Loya Jirga. For months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the gathering was needed to sign off on a security agreement that would allow thousands of U.S. troops to stay in the country after 2014. The elders approved the deal. They called on Karzai to sign it as soon as possible, and Karzai balked.

In a moment, we'll hear from an adviser to the Obama administration who's losing confidence in Karzai. We begin with NPR's Sean Carberry, in Kabul.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: On Sunday, the 50 committees of the Loya Jirga delivered a clear message to President Karzai: Sign the bilateral security agreement - or BSA - with the United States, and sign it as soon as possible.

PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: But a defiant Karzai told the delegates he now has more conditions; that U.S. troops must immediately stop entering Afghan homes, the U.S. must ensure a free election in April, and the U.S. must make serious efforts to promote peace with the Taliban. Only then, Karzai says, will he sign the deal.

KARZAI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Ultimately, the Loya Jirga concluded with no pledge from Karzai to sign the BSA before Afghanistan's presidential election next spring. After meeting with Karzai in Kabul last night, national security adviser Susan Rice said that without a prompt signature, the U.S. will have to start planning a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of next year.


CARBERRY: That doesn't sit well with Afghans in Kabul, who believe their military needs continued support and training from the U.S.

SAYED HAMID: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Twenty-six-year old businessman Sayed Hamid says the Loya Jirga made the right decision for the country, and Karzai should obey.

HAMID: (Through translator) Putting off the signing of the agreement is not in the interests of Afghanistan.

CARBERRY: Bahar Muhseni, a 20-year old student at Kabul University, doesn't support Karzai's last-minute conditions.

BAHAR MUHSENI: (Through translator) I think those are Karzai's own opinions. I think those are not good decisions.

CARBERRY: Even strong allies of Karzai, like parliamentarian Abdul Khaliq Balakarzai, are concerned.

ABDUL KHALIQ BALAKARZAI: (Through translator) The demands and the conditions that President Karzai made, I think, were not that necessary.

CARBERRY: Karzai aides say the president doesn't believe the U.S. will resort to the zero option of removing all troops. Balakarzai says that's too much of a gamble, and Karzai should sign the deal now. Political analyst and jirga delegate Davood Moradian says the problem is the U.S. has handed all the leverage to Karzai, by seeming desperate to get the deal done this year.

DAVOOD MORADIAN: And I think we have to take away that leverage from him.

CARBERRY: Which could be done by showing willingness to wait until after the elections, he says. But Moradian believes Karzai will have to sign the deal by the end of the year because it's a matter of Afghan honor.

MORADIAN: It would be an un-gentleman act by President Karzai to ignore the recommendation of the Jirga.

CARBERRY: But the Afghan leader has now added another new demand - that the U.S. hand over Taliban detainees at Guantanamo.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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