Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the fate of a security pact with the US hinges on the approval of an upcoming traditional assembly. If the deal is passed, some US troops will stay in the country after 2014.
Afghanistan's President Karzai said at a news conference Saturday that without the approval of the traditional gathering known as the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan will likely refuse to sign a deal governing the continued presence of US forces on Afghan soil.
"The Loya Jirga will bring together all the people, who agree and disagree about the Bilateral Security Agreement. We want them to talk about the agreement in a free and fair environment without any pressure on them," Karzai said.
Next Thursday, around 3,000 tribal elders, clerics and civil leaders are set to take part in the assembly to decide whether to accept the draft agreement. The debate is expected to last several days and attendants are expected to be deeply divided.
If the deal is not accepted, no US forces will remain in the country after the final withdrawal of the US-led NATO coalition of some 75,000 international combat troops in December 2014.
If the agreement is approved, it will be sent to the country's parliament for final approval and between 5,000 and 10,000 US troops will stay in Afghanistan to help fight al-Qaeda and train the national army.
The draft was reached last month in Kabul during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry. However, Karzai said only a Loya Jirga had the authority to decide on the hot-button issues.
One of the most contentious issues in the agreement is the US demand to retain legal jurisdiction over its troops in Afghanistan, which would give them immunity from Afghan law.
Immunity from prosecution is a sore point in the country, where many Afghans are angry over unintended civilian deaths from US bombs and incidents such as the March 2012 shooting spree by a US soldier that killed 16 people in the country.
Karzai called on the Taliban and their allies to join the assembly.
"We invite them, please come to this national Jirga of Afghanistan, raise your voice, raise your objection... and share your views," Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.
The Taliban, whose government was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2001, has warned members that they would be punished as "traitors" if they endorsed the deal.
The collapse of a similar security agreement with Iraq in 2011 led to the US pulling all its troops out of the country. Iraq is currently suffering its worst sectarian violence since 2008.
hc/jlw (AP, AFP)