Kabul (AFP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave his backing Thursday to a proposed security pact with the United States that will see up to 15,000 foreign troops stay in the war-torn country.
But he said it would not be signed until after next year’s election.
A grand assembly of tribal chieftains, community elders and politicians began four days of debate on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which will shape Washington’s future military presence in Afghanistan.
Hours before the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides had finally agreed the text of the pact after months of difficult negotiations.
A letter to Karzai from U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed an agreement announced by Afghan officials on Tuesday over the vexed question of U.S. forces raiding Afghan homes.
The letter released by Karzai’s office said U.S. forces would not enter Afghan homes for military operations “except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals”.
The issue is a sensitive one in Afghanistan and had for a time appeared to pose a serious threat to the deal.
If the “loya jirga” assembly approves the BSA, it must then be passed by the Afghan parliament.
It has been touted as vital to the country’s future after 2014, when the bulk of NATO’s 75,000 troops will pull out. The Taliban insurgency this year has reached levels of violence not seen since 2010, according to the United Nations.
Karzai urged the 2,500 delegates to consider Afghanistan’s “future prosperity” as they made their decision, saying the deal gave the country a chance to move on after more than 30 years of war.
“This agreement provides us a transitional period to reach stability in the next ten years ahead of us,” he said.
He signalled yet another delay to the pact, which Washington had wanted completed by the end of October, saying it would only be signed “when our elections are conducted, correctly and with dignity”.
Afghanistan goes to the polls on April 5 to elect a successor to Karzai, who must step down after serving two terms. A credible election is seen as crucial to the country’s future stability.
Karzai told delegates Afghanistan needed Washington’s cooperation in ensuring a clean, fair ballot.