Afghan elders tell Karzai to sign crucial US troop pact
Karzai told to sign agreement before end of the year but he insists on imposing conditions
An Afghan grand assembly yesterday endorsed a crucial security agreement allowing some US troops to stay on after next year, but President Hamid Karzai set conditions for signing the deal.
The 50 groups making up the Loya Jirga gathering of about 2,500 chieftains, tribal elders and politicians gave unanimous backing to the pact at the end of four days of discussions under tight security in Kabul.
The assembly urged Karzai to sign by the end of the year the Bilateral Security Agreement governing the presence of the troops after 2014, the date for most Nato combat forces to pull out.
Karzai told the opening of the meeting on Thursday that the deal would not be signed until after April's presidential election - sparking a strong response from Washington, which wants it sealed by the end of this year.
A closing statement agreed by delegates asked him to sign before the end of the year.
"Given the current situation, and Afghanistan's need... the contents of this agreement as a whole is endorsed by the members of this Loya Jirga," a statement said.
In his response, Karzai did not explicitly address when the deal would be signed, but he stressed that it would only proceed under certain conditions.
These included US "co-operation" in Afghanistan's efforts to make peace with the Taliban, who have led the 12-year insurgency against Karzai's government and its foreign backers.
Karzai also stipulated that there could be no more US military raids on Afghan homes, a sensitive topic that threatened to derail the deal last week.
"If the US goes into Afghan homes one more time, there will be no agreement, I repeat, if they go into our homes one more time, there will be no agreement," Karzai said.
The pact must be approved by the Afghan parliament before it can go into effect.
The US State Department warned that failure to promptly sign the pact - which governs the conditions of any post-war American counter-terrorism and training mission - could jeopardise billions of dollars in vital aid to the war-torn country.