KABUL/WASHINGTON - President Hamid Karzai on Saturday signalled that a deal to allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan was close to collapse as the NATO combat mission withdraws after a decade of fighting the Taliban.
Karzai said the peace process in his country ‘directly depends upon America and Pakistan’, demanding that they bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Karzai said he will not sign the security pact with the United States unless Washington and Pakistan launch a peace process with Taliban insurgents.
Karzai also said that both the United States and Pakistan can play significant role in bringing about peace in Afghanistan.
"Ensuring peace in Afghanistan is directly depending on America and Pakistan. If US and Pakistan work honestly and cooperate honestly the peace will return in our country," he said.
Afghan officials have been accusing Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants, a claim spurned by Islamabad as groundless.
"We don't have any evidence showing America's sincerity to the peace process in Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters at a news conference in Kabul on Saturday.
"If the US wants the bilateral security agreement to be signed, then it should accept our conditions. If not, they can leave anytime and Afghans can go without foreigners."
"Afghanistan will absolutely not accept or sign anything under pressure," he said.
Karzai added that if he were to sign the deal, he would become responsible if Afghans were killed by US bombs.
He called on the US to be a friend not a rival, but then compared them directly with colonial Britain in the 19th century - imposing deals on Afghanistan that ultimately led to war.
Late last year, Karzai made a surprise decision not to promptly sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US, despite a "loya jirga" national assembly voting for him to do so.
Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Karzai's manoeuvring over the deal, stressing that negotiations were completed in November and that it is ready to sign the mutually agreed text.
"Afghanistan will absolutely not accept or sign anything under pressure," Karzai told reporters on Saturday. "If they want to leave, then they go and we will continue our lives... Our main condition is the practical start of peace process."
"If security agreement inked but insecurity incidents exist and the country lives in anarchy, in this case BSA would be similar to Durand," Karzai said, referring to the Durand Line agreement, inked between the then Afghan king Amir Abdul Rahman and the erstwhile British Empire in 1893, which separated part of Afghanistan from the country.
US CONGRESS SLASHES AID FOR AFGHANISTAN: With Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai refusing to sign an agreement with Washington to allow American forces to remain beyond a planned 2014 withdrawal, the US Congress has quietly cut development and military aid funding for the war-torn Central Asian country.
Stating that there has been “no perceptible opposition from the Obama administration,” The Washington Post reported Saturday that the Congressional move, which comes as uncertainty grows by the day over the fate of Afghan-US Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA).
The lawmakers slashed Afghanistan development aid by half and barred US defense officials from embarking on major new infrastructure projects, as Capitol Hill finalised a massive US spending bill. The appropriations allocated $1.1 billion for assistance to Afghanistan, 50 percent of the $2.1 billion the administration had asked for.
The Pentagon last year sought $2.6 billion worth of “critical” capabilities such as mobile strike vehicles for Afghan security forces, but agreed it could do with just 40 percent of that.
The Obama administration had long hoped to bring the Afghan war to a dignified conclusion this year and viewed the president’s State of the Union speech Tuesday as an opportunity to describe the end of America’s longest war as a foreign policy success, the Post said.
“But Washington’s appetite to remain engaged in Afghanistan appears to be eroding precipitously, in large part because of how poisonous its relationship with the country’s president has become.”
Relations have soured quickly after President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA on future US engagement with his country. He has stipulated conditions before ratification of the accord that include US help on Afghan Taliban reconciliation.
Some American officials see the reductions as the unmistakable end of an era of wartime largesse.
“I think this reflects a congressional mood and will have an impact on the ultimate levels of support,” James F Dobbins, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in an interview, according to the Post.
On Karzai’s position on a security agreement, Dobbins said, “This is an example of the price Afghanistan is paying for delay.”
According to the Post overall, the cost of the Afghan war will not decline substantially this year. Congress set aside $85.2 billion for military operations, roughly the same amount as last year. Although the number of US troops has dropped considerably over the past year, the cost of the war remains high because shutting down bases and moving equipment back to the United States is expensive.
The multibillion-dollar American effort to reconstruct Afghanistan has become increasingly controversial in recent years due to slipping support for the war and rampant corruption in Afghanistan among other factors.
The newspaper report says Pentagon officials submitted to Congress a list of weapons, aircraft and tools that they wanted for Afghan forces, including mobile strike vehicles, night-vision technology, artillery launchers and technology to detect explosives. As the budget was being drawn up, defense officials winnowed the list of items they initially described as “critical” by 60 percent. Aircraft were among the items removed.
The US and its allies will end combat mission and pull out most of the troops by the end of current year and Pentagon has proposed that a residual force of 10,000 be left for training missions.
Meanwhile, according to the dispatch, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, referring to the prospect of a full pullout, said “That is not a future we are seeking, and we do not believe that is in Afghanistan’s interests. The further this slips into 2014, however, the more likely such an outcome is.”