Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a security deal with the United States, the White House said, raising the prospect of a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the war-ravaged nation next year.
Karzai told U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice in Kabul on Monday that the United States must put an immediate end to military raids on Afghan homes and release all remaining Afghan Guantanamo detainees before he would sign a bilateral security pact, his spokesman said.
On Sunday the Loya Jirga, an assembly of Afghan elders, endorsed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) under those conditions, and Karzai suggested postponing the signing until after national elections — in which he will not be running — next year.
The impasse strengthens doubts about whether any U.S. and NATO troops will remain after the end of next year in Afghanistan, which faces an insurgency by the Taliban and is still training its military, and whether they would be immune from prosecution.
Rice, who made a three-day visit to Afghanistan, told Karzai it was “not viable” to defer signing the deal until after the election, the White House said.
“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 presence in Afghanistan,” a White House statement quoted Rice as saying.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out in the meeting several conditions for his signature to the deal, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on and searches of Afghan homes.
The BSA includes a provision that would allow raids in some circumstances — for example, if an American life is directly under threat — but it would not take effect until 2015.
The issue is particularly sensitive among Afghans after a dozen years of war and what some see as a U.S. occupation of their country.
“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces, and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said.
Karzai also called on Washington to send all remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga, which convened last week to debate the deal, had endorsed the pact with this condition.
Faizi said Karzai asked U.S. officials to guarantee that the U.S. would refrain from endorsing any candidate in next year’s elections.
He further asked the U.S. envoys to return to President Barack Obama with this message: “The ball is in your court now, and get back to us.”
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since ousting the Taliban regime in late 2001, and there are still 47,000 American military personnel in the country. The U.S. has been in talks with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.
Al Jazeera and wire services