|The meeting is only consultative and a final decision on the agreement with US will be put to the parliament [EPA]|
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he wants the US and NATO to agree to stop carrying out night raids on Afghan homes as a pre-condition to Kabul signing a strategic partnership with Washington.
Karzai spoke on Wednesday at the opening of a “loya jirga,” or grand council, which will discuss a proposed strategic partnership with the US that would oversee the American military presence as troops withdraw, as well as possible peace talks with the Taliban.
Night raids, which foreign troops say are one of their most effective weapons in the fight against the Taliban, are a major cause of friction between Karzai and his Western backers.
“Afghan security have gone at extra lengths to ensure the jirga will go ahead, as a lot of effort has taken place to ensure there are no attacks.”
– Bernard Smith, Al Jazeera
The Afghan leader has said repeatedly he wants them stopped.
“We want a strategic partnership but with specific conditions: our national integrity, no night raids, no house searches,” Karzai told the meeting of around 2,000 Afghan political and community leaders in the capital Kabul.
The strategic partnership agreement, still under discussion between Washington and Kabul, will govern US involvement in Afghanistan after the deadline for the exit of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Karzai urged the delegates to consider both the need for international help and the need to make sure Afghans are setting the rules in their own country.
“We want to have a strong partnership with the US and NATO, but with conditions,” Karzai said.
“We want our national sovereignty, and an end to night raids and to the detention of our countrymen. We don’t want parallel structures alongside our government.”
He also called on the leaders to help find a path to peace for the turbulent country.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, said the presence of US military bases in Afghanistan would continue to fuel the war.
“The fighting in Afghanistan is against the presence of foreigners. When they want to stay longer, it will be difficult.
“The concern of the neighbouring countries and also the region countries is important. Pakistan [ is] concerned about that, Iran declared that. China and Russia are concerned, and they will not be quite about the presence of permanent bases in Afghanistan.
Karzai is hosting the loya jirga despite threats by the Taliban to target anyone who attends.
Loya jirgas, have been called throughout Afghan history to discuss weighty affairs that affect the country’s various ethnic groups and tribes.
The jirga cannot make laws, and whatever it decides has to be approved by parliament.
But diplomats in Kabul say Karzai will use the meeting to secure a strong mandate from the gathering as he pursues the controversial strategic agreement with the US.
The Taliban, who are opposed to the presence of foreign forces, have dismissed the jirga as a ruse to cement what they see as foreign interference and have already tried to disrupt it.
The group on Monday said they had obtained a confidential government security plan for the meeting.
Roads leading to the hall in which the jirga will be held, near Polytechnic University, about 10km from central Kabul, have been closed to normal traffic.
Dozens of extra Afghan security guards have been patrolling the streets, performing body searches and, in some cases, removing turbans to check for explosives.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Kabul, said: “Afghan security have gone to extra lengths to ensure the jirga will go ahead, as a lot of effort has taken place to ensure there are no attacks.”
The jirga is the latest meeting to discuss the future of Afghanistan, after a regional gathering in Istanbul earlier this month and ahead of an international conference in Germany in December.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, 27 fighters and a British soldier were killed in separate attacks in the country.
NATO officials said an air strike killed the fighters in the east of the country after they opened fire on an international military patrol.
“Coalition aircraft killed 27 insurgents this morning in the Nazyan district of Nangarhar province,” a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Force (ISAF) in eastern Afghanistan said.
Britain’s ministry of defence said that a soldier from 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed by a roadside bomb while providing security in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
The ministry said the soldier’s death brings to 386 the number of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations there in 2001.