Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has agreed to sign a strategic agreement with the United States if it brings peace to the nation after a more than three-decade-long conflict.
Speaking at the conclusion of the “consultative” Loya Jirga, Grand Assembly, on Sunday morning, Karzai said the result of the Bilateral Strategic Agreement between Kabul and Washington must be peace.
“Starting from today, security is our first condition”, Karzai said before warning that any more raids on Afghan homes would result in a nullification of the agreement approved by the more than 2,500 men and women in attendance at the gathering.
If we started the war, we can end it; if we haven't, we can't. This war was started by someone else
The Afghan president went on to say that it has been made clear to him that peace in Afghanistan is “first in US hands” and second in Pakistani hands. Karzai said he had seen documentation proving as much.
Alluding to the role of neighbouring Pakistan in the decades-long Afghan conflict, Karzai said “if we started the war, we can end it; if we haven't, we can't. This war was started by someone else”.
The president went on to deliver a message to the United States, including James Cunningham, US ambassador to Afghanistan, who was seated in the audience at Kabul’s Polytechnic University.
“Afghanistan has proved its friendship to you … Now, the US should prove its honesty with us.”
As proof of the friendship between the two nations, Karzai pointed to calls by several of the 50 Loya Jirga committees that a base for US forces be established in the central province of Bamiyan.
An annex in the agreement had previously stated nine facilities will continue to be provided by Afghanistan to the US.
Though nearly all of the 50 committees recommended the BSA be signed before the end of 2013 and ahead of next April’s presidential election, Karzai concluded his speech only by saying negotiations around the BSA will continue.
The recommendation that the agreement be signed before the April 2014 election comes in direct opposition to a statement made by Karzai in a speech delivered on the gathering’s opening day “this pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity”.
Karzai’s recommendations came after he conceded that neither he nor the United States trusted one another.
Washington quickly replied that it was "neither practical nor possible" to delay signing the BSA beyond the end of 2013.
On Saturday, Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s spokesman, told international media outlets that the president was seeking firm “guarantees” that Washington won’t interfere in next year’s election. Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term, addressed criticisms that he may use the Loya Jirga in a bid to thwart elections by saying “I have no representative, my representative is the people's consciousness”.
Speaking after the president’s speech, Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, former president and head of the Jirga, said though he respects Karzai “like my own son, my student … I've treated him as a friend, not just as a son”, the incumbent has failed to act on his advice.
Sharing the podium with Karzai briefly, Mujaddedi said “you must sign the agreement, if you don’t we will be disappointed”.
Though the majority of the 50 committees endorsed the immediate signing and ratification of the BSA, the most common objections came to Article 13, which “authorises the United States to hold [civil and criminal] trial … or take other disciplinary action, as appropriate, in the territory of Afghanistan” when a US soldier is accused of criminal activity.
At least five of the committees raised objections to the article addressing “status of personnel”.
Spokespeople from at least two committees directly stated that Afghanistan should have jurisdiction over any US soldiers accused of crimes on Afghan soil.
Several committees also stated that if trials are held in the United States, families of victims should have access to and presence in US-held trials at the expense of Washington.
The issue of jurisdiction has been a sticking point for the negotiations between the BSA, which had dragged on for more than a year before being presented to the more than 2,500 men and women in attendance at the Loya Jirga.
The issue came to the fore after a US judge gave Robert Bales, the US staff sergeant who admitted to the worst case of civilian killings by a US Soldier since the Vietnam War, a life sentence for the murder of 16 Afghan villagers, including nine children.
The trial of the “Kandahar Massacre”, as the March 2012 murders of Panjwai district villagers came to be known, earned the ire of Afghans when it was decided the trial would be held in the United States.
The text of the BSA, approved by the delegates at the Loya Jirga must now be signed by the president and sent to the parliament for final ratification.