A grand assembly of Afghan tribal elders and civil society leaders — the Loya Jirga — resoundingly approved an agreement to allow 3,000-9,000 U.S. troops to stay in the country after the NATO mission ends next year.
However, it remains unclear when — or if — President Hamid Karzai will sign the agreement.
For three hours, the chairs of the Loya Jirga’s 50 committees, representing 2,500 assembly delegates, read out their findings. Each committee had its list of proposed revisions and clarifications to the draft agreement that has been under negotiation for more than a year.
Some wanted the U.S. to set up courts at its bases in Afghanistan to try any American soldiers accused of committing crimes in the country.
Others said they wanted Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo turned over to Afghan custody. Others still said they wanted the agreement to ban the U.S. from monitoring cell phones and emails of Afghans.
But they all agreed on two things: They approve the agreement as a whole, and they want Karzai to sign it within the next few weeks.
They added the deadline because of a surprise Karzai pulled at the opening session of the Loya Jirga last week: To the consternation of Afghan and U.S. officials, Karzai told the assembly he would not sign the agreement until after Afghanistan’s presidential elections in April.
The U.S. says that’s an impossible time frame, as it has to plan and budget the post-2014 military mission in Afghanistan.
And so, all eyes and ears were on Karzai Sunday when he took to the podium.
The visibly fatigued leader said more time is needed to negotiate revisions and to see if the U.S. is sincere.
“If the U.S. brings us peace, we will sign the agreement,” he said.
Karzai’s refusal to commit to signing the deal prompted a scolding from the chair of the Jirga, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi. The aging former president said he views Karzai as a son, but one who doesn’t always listen to him.
“President Karzai should promise us that he is going to sign the agreement soon,” Mojaddedi said. “It’s for our good.”
Political analysts in Kabul argue that Karzai is trying to delay signing the security agreement because it’s the last major piece of political leverage he holds as president. They say once he signs the deal, he becomes a lame duck.