Karzai: Security deal with US should be signed after Afghan presidential poll

Karzai: Security deal with US should be signed after Afghan presidential poll
The Afghan President says he will not sign a crucial security pact with the US till after presidential elections next year. Hamid Karzai backs the deal, but does not trust the US.

"The agreement should be signed when the election is conducted, properly and with dignity," Karzai told the Loya Jirga grand assembly that began on Thursday.

The unexpected statement comes just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides had finalized the wording of the agreement.

Karzai said that his deferment would show America's assurance "that we are moving on the path to security and they are accompanying us on this path."

A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai’s plan as it was an on-going diplomatic discussion.

President Karzai told the gathering in Kabul that President Barack Obama had sent a letter assuring him that a security pact between the two states was in Afghanistan’s best interest.

The five-day long 2,500-member national consultative council is set to debate the draft and decide whether US troops will be permitted to stay in the country post-2014.

The deal indicates that up to 15,000 US troops could remain in the country until 2024. But both sides still want final details to be clarified.

U.S. Army soldiers carry Sgt. Matt Krumwiede, who was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED), towards a Blackhawk Medevac helicopter in southern Afghanistan (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

One of the main stumbling blocks in reaching the bilateral security agreement was the legal status of American troops on the ground.

On Wednesday the Afghan foreign ministry released a draft security deal, which said that US forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 will be under the jurisdiction of the US and not be subject to Afghan courts.

The Loya Jirga’s decision on the 25-page “Security and Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States of America and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan” is expected by Sunday.

The council can revise or reject any part of the draft agreement. After Loya Jirga amendments, the Afghan parliament is set to review the agreement and also make more changes before it is approved.

Despite his statement, Afghanistan's President said he backs a security deal with the US, but at the same time he acknowledged there was little trust between the two sides.

"My trust with America is not good. I don't trust them and they don't trust me,"
Karzai said. "During the past 10 years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me."

Karzai’s decision, which came as a surprise even for the closest of the President’s aides, means that the long-debated deal will not be signed before April 5, the day when the presidential election is scheduled.

"This may be misconstrued as if the president wants someone specific [to win] in the elections,"
Hedayat Amin Arsala, Karzai's former vice president, said according to The Wall Street Journal. "I hope that is not the case."

The US had wanted the agreement signed by the end of October 2013 as it would give military planners time to prepare to keep troops in the country after the scheduled 2014 withdrawal. 

However, in response to Karzai’s Thursday statement, President Obama said he would decide about the continuing presence of American troops after Kabul signs the pact.