Washington and Kabul commit to strategic deal

Mon, Apr 23, 2012, 01:00

AFGHANISTAN AND the United States have agreed the contents of a long-awaited deal to define their relationship after most foreign troops leave at the end of 2014, although the document sidesteps some of the thorniest questions about the US military presence.

Negotiations on the strategic partnership deal have dragged on for over a year, initially held up by two demands from Afghan president Hamid Karzai that he said were critical to restoring national sovereignty: Afghan control of jails and an end to night raids on Afghan homes.

Western officials argued for months that the first demand was not practical and the second could undermine the military effort, but they eventually compromised.

The main US prison is now in the middle of a six-month handover. And Afghan forces have taken control of night raids, under two separate agreements signed within a month of each other, paving the way for the strategic partnership deal.

“Today Afghanistan and the US initialled and locked the text of the strategic partnership agreement,” said Mr Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi.

“This means the text is closed and both sides will now review the document and do a final consultation. In the US it will go to the houses of Congress and the president; in Afghanistan the president will consult with national leaders plus both houses of parliament.”

Both sides agreed to set aside difficult questions about long-term US access to military bases and the status of any US forces that do stay on in Afghanistan.

These issues will be negotiated in a separate deal some time before 2014.

Washington and its allies wanted to have the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreed before May, when a Nato conference in Chicago is expected to pledge long-term aid to Kabul and military training.

By opening the way for a smaller but longer-term US presence in Afghanistan, the agreement would give western leaders a rationale for supporting Kabul after combat troops are withdrawn in 2014.

It also aims to reassure Afghans that the west will not cut and run and is key to Afghanistan’s financial stability. The World Bank forecasts the country will have a $7 billion (€5.3 billion) hole in its annual budget after 2014.

“We are expecting the signature some time before Chicago, although there is no date yet,” said Mr Faizi.

Earlier this week it looked as if the pact might have been in some doubt when Mr Karzai demanded that the US write a pledge into the document for funding the Afghan security forces.

“They are providing us with money . . . But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement. We say: ‘give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less, but write it down,’ ” Mr Karzai was reported by the Associated Press to have said in a speech in the capital commemorating a revered Afghan writer.

The international community has informally agreed to spend about $4 billion a year supporting the Afghan police and army, with the bulk of that coming from the US, some from European allies and about $500 million a year from the Afghan budget.

Mr Karzai said he wanted a written assurance of at least $2 billion, rather than a verbal promise of a higher figure. But the deal does not specify firm figures. The US government was unavailable for comment. – (Guardian service)