Karzai rebuffs US, warms up to Iran
Iran President Hassan Rouhani (R) meets with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on September 12, 2013.
Thu Dec 12, 2013 3:30PM GMT
Syed Zafar Mehdi
As the stalemate over the contentious US-Afghan bilateral security agreement continues, President Hamid Karzai’s strong defiance and nonchalance is raising hackles in the political and intelligentsia circles of US.
After his much-publicized day-long visit to Tehran last week, where he met and held extensive deliberations with the newly-elected President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, the outgoing Afghan president is now creating a storm from Paris.
In a fiery interview with French daily Le Monde on Tuesday, President Karzai launched a scathing attack on US government, accusing it of ‘issuing threats’ and acting like a ‘colonial power’ to coerce Afghan government to sign the bilateral security agreement.
“They are making threats like, ‘we won’t pay salaries, we’ll drive you into a civil war’; these kinds of threats,” the paper quoted President Karzai saying. He said he is willing to sign the agreement before April 2014 Presidential elections only under two circumstances: airstrikes and military raids on Afghan homes should end and US should intensify efforts to broker peace with Taliban insurgents.
According to Karzai, the special US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, had categorically told him during his latest visit to Kabul that the prospects of peace are bleak without this security agreement. “If you do not sign the agreement, we will stoke flames of war and fighting in your country, we will cause trouble,” President Karzai interpreted the meaning of Mr. Dobbin’s words like this. But, Karzai said Afghans will not submit or surrender. “We have fought colonial masters in the past, and we do not accept it.”
Earlier, on Sunday, President Karzai left for Tehran even as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was on a surprise visit to Kabul. Much to the chagrin of US government, President Karzai and his Iranian counterpart Mr. Rouhani agreed in principle to start negotiations on the economic and security ‘pact of friendship’. The one-day visit was significant as it gave Afghan President a chance to meet the Iranian President second time in four months, and more importantly, ruffle the feathers of US government he has been at loggerheads with lately.
Iran, a strong ally and neighbor of Afghanistan, is opposed to the bilateral security agreement between Kabul and Washington and the continuing presence of US troops in the country. “We are concerned about the tensions arising from the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan and believe that all foreign forces should withdraw and the security of Afghanistan should be entrusted to the people of that country,” Mr. Rouhani said in a statement.
His words are echoed by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs, Ebrahim Rahimpour: “Iran, as a friend and ally of Afghanistan, has decided to oppose the signing of BSA between US and Afghan governments, because we believe the agreement will damage the Afghanistan government and nation's interests.”
President Karzai, who initially batted for the deal and exhorted the lawmakers in Afghanistan to approve it, is not averse to signing the pact, but has shown reluctance to do so before the coming elections. Many top-ranking US officials have been persuading him to relent, but he remains unfazed. Those who have visited Kabul in last few weeks include James Dubbins, the US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan; Susan E. Rice, the US National Security Advisor and Chuck Hegel, the US Defense Secretary.
With President Karzai refusing to budge from his stand, US government is reportedly exploring other options to seal the deal. US Secretary of State John Kerry, during a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Brussels last week, said the agreement can also be signed by Afghan Defense Minister or any other high-ranking government official, if President Karzai remains adamant, dropping hints that US is not ruling out the possibility of dumping the incumbent President and roping in some US loyalist as his replacement for the remaining period of this government’s tenure that ends in April 2014.
Mr. Kerry’s rabble-rousing remarks drew sharp reactions from the Presidential Palace here in Kabul. President Karzai’s Spokesman Aimal Faizi said it is immaterial who should sign the deal; the core issue is that the aspirations and demands of the people of Afghanistan should be honored and accepted by the US government. Mr. Faizi said the US is making indefatigable efforts to maintain the presence of its troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
“President Karzai wants a complete end to the unilateral military operations on Afghan homes and a result-oriented start to the peace process,” Faizi said. “As long as these demands are not met, President Karzai will not authorize any member of the government to sign the agreement.”
The logjam over the deal continues even after Loya Jirga - a traditional assembly of 2500 tribal elders, religious figures and political leaders gave its consent to the deal late last month and asked Karzai government to seal the pact without further dilly-dallying. But, President Karzai, because of some serious reservations, has refused to sign the deal in his tenure, which ends in April next year.
US officials say the pact is critical to keep some forces in Afghanistan post 2014 for training Afghan security forces and for counter-terrorism operations. They have even threatened to stop the financial aid to the war-weary country, if the deal fails to materialize.
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