President Hamid Karzai appears to have hardended his stand against signing a security pact with the US, saying American troops should leave Afghanistan unless it could restart peace talks with the Taliban.
Most diplomats now believe that Karzai is unlikely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) allowing for some form of US military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, when most troops are due to leave.
Under the agreement about 10,000 US troops and about 6,000 from allied nations will remain in Afghanistan past 2014, largely to help train Afghanistan security forces.
"In exchange for this agreement, we want peace for the people of Afghanistan. Otherwise, it's better for them [US] to leave and our country will find its own way," Karzai said on Saturday.
He said that pressing ahead with talks with the Taliban, in power from 1996-2001, was critical to ensuring that Afghanistan was not left with a weak central government.
"Starting peace talks is a condition because we want to be confident that after the signing of the security agreement,
Afghanistan will not be divided into fiefdoms," Karzai said.
Along with reviving peace talks with the Taliban, Karzai is also demanding an end to all US military operations on Afghan homes and villages, including strikes by pilotless drones.
Karzai initially agreed to a text of the BSA in November and an assembly of elders called on him to sign it. But he has since refused to sign.
In his comments on Saturday, Karzai also denounced the use of advertising - some paid for by the US - that lobbies for signature of the BSA.
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"No pressure, no threat, no psychological war can force us to sign the BSA," Karzai said, referring to the advertisements broadcast for weeks by local media but now taken off the air.
"If they want to leave, they should leave today. We will continue our living."
Separately, Karzai criticised a detention facility on the US-run Bagram Air Field north of Kabul.
Karzai referred to Bagram as a "Taliban-producing factory" where he said innocent Afghans are tortured into hating their country. He said he had been trying to close it for some six years.
Karzai's defiant tone struck a chord with those in the West who have already decided that further discussion with the him may be pointless and waiting for his successor to be elected is the best option.
Afghans are due to vote in a presidential election on April 5.
However, representatives from some countries say this would not leave enough time for them to prepare for a post-2014 mission.