Karzai hints at flexibility in Afghan-US troop talks
KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted on Tuesday that his government would be flexible in negotiating “sensitive” issues in a new security pact with the United States.
Karzai did not spell out what issues he was referring to, but one of the most sensitive questions involves immunity from local prosecution for US troops remaining in Afghanistan after Nato forces withdraw in 2014.
Washington recalled all its troops from Iraq after Baghdad refused to grant US soldiers immunity, and Karzai has in the past warned there could be similar problems in Afghanistan.
But in a speech to industrialists and businessmen in Kabul, the president suggested that a deal would be reached.
“With the Americans we will make a deal, in which neither the skewer burns nor the kebab,” he said, referring to an Afghan proverb on a settlement which benefits both parties equally.
“Where they are sensitive, we shouldn’t touch too much, but we should consider our interests 100 per cent,” he said.
But Karzai also accused US of using predictions by the Western media and analysts of post-2014 chaos to put pressure on his government “to surrender to their demands”. He vowed to “stand firm”.
Negotiations on the security pact were launched this month but negotiators said the immunity issue was not discussed in the first round.
President Barack Obama is weighing plans to keep roughly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan after the Nato-led force hands over security to the Afghan government, a senior US official said this week.
The troop levels under consideration remain tentative but the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said options under consideration range from 6,000 to 15,000 American boots on the ground.
The follow-on force would carry out counter-terrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and provide training and logistical support for Afghan forces, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said.
The US has about 66,000 troops in Nato’s total force in Afghanistan of slightly more than 100,000.