Some Afghans Worried As NATO Withdrawal Deadline Nears

It's been a bad month in U.S.-Afghan relations and efforts to negotiate a long-term security pact have been sidelined by a series of controversies and rhetorical bombshells. As the end of the NATO mission creeps closer, Afghans are increasingly worried that the bad atmospherics between Washington and Kabul could leave the Afghan people without enough U.S. support and vulnerable to predatory neighbors.

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And General Dempsey is not only dealing with Syria. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs arrived in Kabul yesterday to try to calm the waters in U.S.-Afghan relations. Efforts to negotiate a long-term security pact with Afghanistan have been sidelined by a series of controversies and the end of the NATO mission is creeping closer. Afghans are increasingly worried that those bad relations could cause the U.S. to withdraw all its troops, leaving Afghanistan vulnerable. NPR's Sean Carberry reports.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: At a news conference after a meeting with President Hamid Karzai, Dempsey dismissed reports that the Obama administration is seriously considering withdrawing all US forces in the country by the end of next year when the NATO mission here is due to end. Dempsey says it is essential that some U.S. troops remain in the country

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: I don't have a zero option. No one has asked me to prepare a zero option.

CARBERRY: The general says President Karzai also wants U.S. troops to remain. But for that to happen, the two sides must revive and complete negotiations on the security agreement.

DEMPSEY: So there is no zero option, but there could be a zero outcome because we can only stay here if we're invited to do so.

CARBERRY: Karzai suspended negotiations with the U.S. after last month's abortive effort to begin peace talks with the Taliban. He accused the U.S. of trying to cut him out of that process. And his chief of staff alleged that the U.S. and Pakistan are colluding with the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. There has been considerable criticism of Karzai's rhetoric among a broad spectrum of people here. Khalid Pashtoon is a parliamentarian from Kandahar Province.

KHALID PASHTOON: President Karzai is lately acting pretty weird. Everybody is thinking that the relationship between the United States and Kabul is pretty tense.

HAMID SABOORY: People in Afghanistan are very concerned about it.

CARBERRY: Hamid Saboory is the founder of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul think tank.

SABOORY: They think if the two friendly states start to have an antagonistic approach on their long-term cooperation it will damage a lot of things.

CARBERRY: He says the situation hasn't been helped by the sudden announcement from the Afghan government that the U.S. owes $70 million in customs fines for military containers shipped out of the country. Saboory says that Karzai's advisers aren't serving him well and Karzai is overplaying his hand.

SABOORY: I think this is the time for the Afghan government to realize this and just start negotiating properly and make the concessions that are important and serves Afghanistan interest in the long term. MP Khalid Pashtoon believes most Afghans want Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement or BSA so U.S. troops can stay past 2014. They're frustrated by Karzai demanding things the U.S. can't provide.

PASHTOON: There is no doubt that the president 100 percent knows that the BSA is for the benefit of the Afghan people.

CARBERRY: The concern is evident in the streets of Kabul.

MUHAMMAD BAMYANI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Forty-five-year old Muhammad Bamyani is a fruit vendor.

BAMYANI: (Through translator) If the relationship between U.S. and Afghanistan worsens, the Afghan people will lose hope for a better life, and it's very obvious that a civil war will start again.

NAJIB AKHLAQI: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: Najib Akhlaqi is a government employee in Kabul. Our people will suffer, he says. The neighboring countries are looking to pursue their interests in Afghanistan, and he says that can only be stopped if we have a good relationship with the U.S. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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