Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Afghan Council Defies Karzai, Says U.S. Deal Should Be Signed Soon

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Afghan Council Defies Karzai, Says U.S. Deal Should Be Signed Soon

Article excerpt

KABUL, Afghanistan -- In a face-to-face rebuke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a grand council of Afghan dignitaries voted Sunday to recommend approval of a proposed 10-year security agreement with the United States by the end of the year, agreeing to an American-imposed deadline.

The white-bearded chairman of the advisory council, or loya jirga, told Mr. Karzai that he miscalculated by threatening a signing delay until next spring. Chairman Sibghatullah Mojaddedi lectured Mr. Karzai, warning that if he delays signing, "I'll resign and leave the country."

"If he had listened to my advice, we wouldn't have this problem today," Mr. Mojaddedi, 89, a former Afghan president and longtime confidant and mentor to Mr. Karzai, said as the president sat stiffly a few paces away. But Mr. Karzai remained adamant that he -- or his successor -- will not sign the accord until after the Afghan presidential election in April. That stubborn stance has infuriated U.S. officials, who on Friday imposed a Dec. 31 deadline.

Mr. Karzai asked the loya jirga, whose recommendations are not legally binding, for more time to negotiate. "We'll try to bargain more with the Americans on your behalf" and then sign the agreement months later, he said.

He said he wanted to apply more political pressure so that Afghanistan doesn't sign the agreement "for free," or without forcing American concessions. Providing few specifics, he also said he would not sign unless the U.S. takes a stronger role in Afghanistan's moribund peace talks with the Taliban and promotes "transparency" in the April elections.

His voice rising in indignation, Mr. Karzai said he would never sign unless the U.S. military stops entering Afghan homes in search of insurgents, a practice known as night raids. "Starting today, the United States cannot raid Afghan homes. If they enter Afghan homes one more time, this agreement is over," he said.

The Afghan president is notorious for ultimatums and delaying tactics that seek to extract concessions and keep himself at the center of events. With his term ending in April, he is about to enter a lame-duck period -- especially if he signs the accord soon. …

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