Elders Endorse U.S. Troops’ Presence

Afghan elder, interpreter, US soldier...

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by Tim Craig

Washington Post

November 24, 20013

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KABUL — An emotional showdown between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and 2,500 tribal elders here Sunday ended with some — but not all — of what the United States was hoping for.

The elders endorsed an agreement under which the United States will continue to provide advice and training to Afghan security forces, and conduct counterterrorism operations, after the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of next year. Although President Obama has yet to indicate the size of a potential post-2014 force, most estimates are that it would include up to 10,000 troops.

Delegates said it was in Afghanistan’s “vital national interest” to have a partnership with the United States, and they urged Karzai not to delay the signing of the bilateral security agreement until after the country holds elections in April.

“President Karzai should promise us, he should sign the [agreement] as soon as possible,” said Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former Afghan president who chaired the four-day gathering, known as a loya jirga. “This agreement will be beneficial for the people.”

But Karzai remained defiant, taking the stage during the final hours of the jirga to repeat that his signature will not come easily ~ or quickly. Karzai said he wants additional assurances from Washington that the United States will not meddle in the April elections. He also wants the Obama administration to ensure security within Afghanistan and at the same time to promise that a U.S. soldier will never again enter the home of an Afghan citizen in a military operation.

“Peace, security and a transparent election are preconditions for signing,” Karzai declared. “From now onward, Americans don’t have the right to raid our homes. If they raid our homes one more time, there will be no agreement.”

Secretary of State John F. Kerry praised the elders’ decision to endorse the agreement and urged Karzai to sign it before the end of the year.

“I can’t imagine a more compelling affirmation from the Afghan people themselves of their commitment to a long-term partnership with the United States and our international partners,” Kerry said. “The critical next step must be to get the [agreement] signed in short order.”

When he called for the jirga a few months ago, Karzai said he needed to obtain a national consensus about whether U.S. troops were wanted after next year and if so, under what terms. He said repeatedly in recent weeks that the jirga’s vote would heavily influence his decision on whether to forward the agreement to parliament for final approval.

But faced with strong support for the agreement from the jirga, Karzai remained deeply skeptical. His speech to the delegates Sunday was frequently interrupted by elders who urged him to avoid delays in finalizing the accord.

Uncharacteristically, Karzai appeared to abruptly cut off his prepared comments in the face of the outbursts. “On your behalf, I will continue negotiating,” Karzai said as he quickly walked off the stage.

Unlike in his opening address to the jirga last week, Karzai appeared to stop short of directly stating that he won’t sign the agreement until after his successor is chosen in April. That omission is likely to please U.S. officials, who had been looking for an opening to try to get him to move up his timetable…

Afghan elder, interpreter, ISAF soldier

“We are studying President Karzai’s speech. We continue to believe that signing the agreement as quickly as possible is in the interests of both countries,” said Robert H. Hilton, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The Obama administration has suggested that there is little room for additional negotiating on the agreement, saying the version now up for consideration was the “final offer.”

But the jirga, whose vote is not binding, set a few conditions before expressing approval of the agreement. Most notably, the elders called for a 10-year time limit on the post-2014 troop presence and said they would seek reparations for damages caused by U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan.

In stark contrast to the jirga delegates’ endorsement of the U.S.-Afghan partnership, Karzai denounced the U.S. government in his remarks Sunday, which were made with U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham in the room.

Karzai said the Obama administration undermined him when it allowed Taliban leaders to establish a temporary office in Doha, Qatar, in June, during an unsuccessful effort by the United States to broker peace talks between the Taliban and Karzai’s government. He accused the Obama administration of interfering in the country’s 2009 elections, which he called an attempt to weaken the Afghan government. And he lashed out at the U.S. military for entering the homes of Afghan civilians.

After Karzai spoke, Mojaddedi pleaded with Karzai to reconsider.

“Mr. President, give us your pledge that you will sign the deal soon,” Mojaddedi said. He added, apparently in jest, that Karzai would have to move out of Afghanistan if there is no long-term security deal with the United States.

Then, in an extraordinary moment in Afghan politics, Karzai returned to the stage so that he and Mojaddedi could briefly debate the matter before the 2,500 delegates and a national television audience.

“They must commit that they will not kill Afghans in their homes,” Karzai insisted, adding, “If they do this, then we will sign.”

As the encounter was ending, Mojaddedi said, “If you don’t sign it, we will be disappointed,” according to an account published by the Associated Press.

“Fine,” Karzai said, as he once again left the stage.

Sayed Salahuddin and Mohammad Sharif contributed to this report.

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Afghan Elder

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Karzai Says He’ll Sign Later

not til nex yer

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by Azam Ahmed

New York Times

November 21, 2013

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai stood before thousands of Afghan leaders on Thursday in a watershed moment for his tumultuous rule. Having just come to an agreement with American leaders on a security deal that would commit the two countries to a lasting military alliance, and which would surely define his legacy, he convened the assembly that would decide the deal’s fate.

And then, in what has become a signature move, he hit the brakes.

After a speech in which he bluntly described his relationship with the United States as one of mutual distrust, he told the gathering, known as a loya jirga, that even if it approved the deal, he would wait until after the April presidential elections to sign it.

The declaration, which surprised both American and Afghan officials, instantly put at risk an American deadline to have an agreement signed this year. And it served notice that even with his leadership set to expire next year, Mr. Karzai intended for the United States to continue working through him at every turn until then.

The play is not without danger for Mr. Karzai. As American officials’ exasperation with him has intensified, they have increasingly noted the possibility that no American troops — and by extension, no international funding — would be left in Afghanistan after 2014.

They did so again on Thursday. In a White House background briefing, administration officials said they were seeking a clarification of Mr. Karzai’s intent, and suggested that leaving the deal’s completion until next spring would make it impossible to keep any American forces there.

The officials also emphasized that Mr. Karzai had agreed to a one-year timetable when the two countries began negotiating the security agreement last November.

Mr. Karzai’s brinkmanship is also creating anxiety within his own government. The military and police establishments, in particular, have urgently pushed to finalize the deal because it would ensure training and heavy international funding for the Afghan security forces.

Still, officials noted on Thursday that there was nothing to keep Mr. Karzai from changing his mind again if the loya jirga were to approve the security agreement by its close on Sunday. (Originally called for three days, the meeting has since been stretched to four, with the option to go even longer if needed, Afghan officials said.)

And if anything, Mr. Karzai’s statements seemed of a piece with a series of negotiation moves that appeared calculated to squeeze every last American concession out of the process — though each usually ended in Afghan compliance.

Earlier this month, the issue of American soldiers being granted immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts was highlighted by Afghan officials as a potential deal-breaker, until it was not. On Sunday, the Afghans drew a line in the sand about United States forces searching Afghan homes, a demand that also largely fell by the wayside.

And a public statement on Tuesday from a Karzai spokesman saying that the Americans were prepared to essentially apologize for past mistakes during the war turned into an embarrassment for the Karzai administration when two senior administration officials denied there was an apology in the works.

Indeed, there was a certain familiarity in much of Mr. Karzai’s speech on Thursday, delivered to the gathering in a tent at the Polytechnical University of Kabul. While he said he approved the security agreement, he made a point of lashing out at his American allies repeatedly during the hourlong appearance.

“There’s a mistrust between me and the Americans,” he said. “They don’t trust me, and I don’t trust them. I have always criticized them, and they have always propagated negative things behind my back.”

Mr. Karzai called on an assortment of rhetorical devices he has employed over the past decade. He was at times humorous, at times outraged, at times personal and emotional.

It mattered little on Thursday that the coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, attended the loya jirga. Mr. Karzai offered no quarter to the Americans during his speech, even as he made clear his desire to see the bilateral security agreement signed, a move that would secure an American troop presence through 2024 and pave the way for billions of dollars in financial assistance.

“Those who oppose this security agreement shouldn’t be labeled as Pakistani or Iranian agents,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to a common Afghan belief that Afghanistan’s neighbors want to see the country weak and unstable. “There are people who are pro-B.S.A., but we can’t call them American agents. I am pro-B.S.A., but I have my preconditions.”

“We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and laws and be an honest partner,” he said.

He then added, “And bring a lot of money,” prompting a wave of laughter in the crowd.

At times, his speech sounded like a defense of his tenure: He made the Americans wait to sign the agreement. He played hardball on crucial issues. He refused to sign any agreement without putting it to the Afghan people, as represented by the loya jirga, which is composed of 2,500 influential leaders selected by the government.

Still, a prevalent view of the assembly was that it had been called, essentially, to grant the leader political cover for the approval of the security agreement. Mr. Karzai, after all, had final approval over the delegate list.

Though his administration made concessions, Mr. Karzai held up a letter from President Obama as evidence of America’s respect and read passages that expressed sympathy with Afghan concerns about “the sensitive issue of the safety and privacy of people in their own homes.”

The letter, a copy of which was posted on the Afghan president’s website, also pledged that “U.S. forces shall not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of U.S. nationals.”

During his speech, a woman in the audience heckled Mr. Karzai about foreign raids on Afghan homes, a breach of privacy seen as deeply offensive here. Specifically, she pressed him about the concession that foreign raids would be permitted only in “extraordinary circumstances.”

“All the night raids can be categorized as exceptional cases,” she yelled, carrying on for more than a minute before she was ushered from the room.

“This sister has left every jirga,” Mr. Karzai said, referring to her claim that she had been invited to the last two nationwide jirgas. “I know that, but her views should be respected.”

Beneath the levity and criticism, however, Mr. Karzai exudes genuine bitterness over how the American campaign has turned out here. He has seen the hope of many Afghans after the fall of the Taliban fade into cynicism, and has watched yet another generation schooled in the vernacular of war.

As he has in the past, Mr. Karzai mentioned his son during the speech. He recalled coming home after the Ministry of Defense was attacked one night and being greeted by his toddler.

“My son was only 3 years old when he learned the words ‘Ministry of Defense,’ ” he told the gathering, a rare glimpse of family life in a very guarded society. “Can you show me another 3-year-old who knows the words ‘Ministry of Defense?’ ”

Rod Nordland contributed reporting from Kabul, and Mark Landler and Matthew Rosenberg from Washington.

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Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, his website:

http://president.gov.af/en

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Afghans Gathering

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by Rod Nordland

New York Times

November 21, 2013

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The loya jirga is a venerable Afghan institution in which representatives of Afghan tribes are summoned, in the absence of formal government, to discuss issues of concern. Afghan rulers used them to ratify their rule whenever they seized power or expanded territory, because if there is one defining characteristic of a loya jirga, it is that it rarely says no…

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That has certainly been the case of the five loya jirgas summoned in the past decade. The first of those, an emergency jirga in 2002, elected Hamid Karzai as president. He was also the choice of the international community, which supported him for interim leadership and had effectively convened that loya jirga…

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Another loya jirga that began in 2003 ratified the present Afghan Constitution  — and also set out the terms of what in the future would constitute a loya jirga, or grand assembly, specifying that it included all members of Parliament, as well as district and provincial council chairmen…

US soldier in Afghanistan

Mr. Karzai, who has openly expressed his longing to be seen as a champion of Afghan tradition, has been particularly fond of loya jirgas, convening four of them, including the present one. This one was billed as a “consultative loya jirga,” because it did not actually fulfill the strict constitutional requirements of a loya jirga, since the delegates, all chosen either directly or indirectly by the president and his aides, were a more numerous and diverse group than specified in the Constitution, including tribal elders, civic groups, and many other nongovernmental figures…

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Two of Mr. Karzai’s previous jirgas discussed peace, and the most recent one, in 2011, affirmed the government’s support for a strategic agreement with the United States — the precursor to the present security agreement being discussed this week…

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Critics of loya jirgas say the one now underway, expected to conclude on Sunday, is doubly undemocratic. First: as a consultative loya jirga it is chosen by the government outside of constitutional rules. And second: why have a loya jirga in a country that now has an elected Parliament?

Samiullah Sameem, a member of Parliament from Farah Province, supports the security agreement. But he refused his invitation to the jirga. “It is undemocratic and symbolic,” he said. “With democratic institutions like Parliament, there is no need for jirgas.”

“The jirga delegates will endorse what the government tells them to endorse,” said Jawed Kohistani, a political analyst. The jirga’s deliberations are broken down into 50 committees, he said, each headed by a government loyalist. The only way the jirga is likely to say no to a security agreement with the Americans, he said, is if Mr. Karzai wants it to say no…

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Aimal Faizi, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, disagrees, saying that the jirga organizers cast a wide net, sending out some 3,000 invitations. There are 2,500 attendees. All members of Parliament and local government officials down to the district level were among the invitees, as well as representatives of the Taliban — who did not come — and other opponents of the president, some of whom did. Most mainstream opposition figures, however, either were not invited or boycotted the event…

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In his opening speech, Mr. Karzai encouraged the delegates to vote their consciences. “I want you to make your decision independently,” he said. “Whoever comes to you and claims to be my representative, don’t believe them.”

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art and photos gathered by

Rawclyde!

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Loya Jirga Eyeballs Security Agreement

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by Hassan Khitab

Pajhwok Afghan News

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KABUL: Some participants of the consultative Loya Jirga on Friday called for changes in parts of the draft Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), warning the deal — if signed without amendments — could damage Afghanistan’s long-term interest.

Around 2,500 people’s representatives, tribal chieftains, religious scholars, lawmakers, women, civil society groups, the nomadic Kuchi tribe, traders and rights activists are attending the four-day grand assembly in Kabul.  

On the second day of proceedings, 50 jirga committees started debating the deal, clause by clause. The discussions will continue tomorrow, according to organizers. On the final day, committee heads will present their recommendations before the assembly takes any decision.

Some participants believed portions of the BSA text needed a careful review to safeguard the country’s future interest. The Badakhshan provincial council head suggested changes to the articles concerning civilian house searches and legal jurisdiction over foreign troops.

Abdul Wahid Tayyebi told Pajhwok Afghan News: “If these parts of the draft aren’t amended, I fear Afghanistan will be placed in harm’s way.” However, he hoped the Americans would continue to extend sincere assistance to the impoverished ally.  

A representative of the disabled from eastern Laghman province, Syed Sharif, also slammed the jurisdiction clause as violative of Islamic teachings. All parts of the draft agreement that were in conflict with the national interest and inconsistent with the religion must be changed, he demanded.

He viewed the draft accord as detrimental to Afghanistan, because it offered no concrete guarantees of the country’s security and prosperity. US leader Barack Obama’s letter to President Hamid Karzai was also devoid of such commitments, he insisted.

Sharif claimed that the two sides had already concluded the agreement, calling the ongoing tribal forum an exercise in absolving President Karzai of blame and shifting the responsibility for future consequences to the nation.

For his part, Karzai has emphasised on participants to study the entire agreement minutely before sharing their opinion with the government.

Haji Mohammad Usman, a tribal elder from eastern Nangarhar province, insisted sovereignty of the country must be respected; otherwise the agreement would be not approved. The jirga was free of foreign pressures, he said, explaining no one wanted to harm the national interest.

“We have thrashed out more than 10 articles of the pact, but did not find a single article that is against Afghanistan,” he continued.

But an attendee from northeastern Badakhshan province, Mufti Abdul Rahman, condemned legal protection of US forces as a clear breach of Islamic values. Another debatable article concerned house searches, he maintained.

A participant from Balkh province, Nazif Qarizada, noted signing the pact was to the advantage of the country. Afghanistan would face serious challenges if the agreement was not signed, she warned, saying she had studied the whole text but there was nothing negative in it.

Ghulam Hussain Hazara, a political expert and participant of the jirga, opined signing the BSA would benefit Afghanistan in terms of equipping, training and strengthening its security forces. Economic development was another benefit that Afghanistan could gain, he concluded

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Pajhwok Afghan News:

http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2013/11/22/some-delegates-seek-changes-bsa

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Loya Jirga Opens

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                                                                        Afghan troops are providing security…
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The Afghan legend of a people never conquered is deeply woven into the fabric of the nation, and that is why President Hamid Karzai has called a Loya Jirga gathering – he does not want to be remembered as the man who signed away Afghan sovereignty on his own.

Mr Karzai is looking for political cover for a deal to allow US troops to stay on Afghan soil after the end of 2014. But the Loya Jirga opens in the most chaotic of circumstances with US officials saying the published text is not complete.

US Secretary of State John Kerry talked to President Karzai on the phone twice in two days, and said there is now a deal to be put to the Loya Jirga to decide on.

The US has agreed that their troops should not “target Afghan civilians” but can enter Afghan homes. A US official said that an agreed additional line saying that this should only be in “extraordinary circumstances to protect American lives” does not appear in the final text.

President Karzai has raised this issue often in the past – most recently in an interview with the BBC last month – when he said that international forces had brought only suffering to his country.

But after days of political theatre, he failed to win concessions, at one point even demanding that the Americans admit past mistakes, a tactic that won a blast of contempt from Washington.

Given the complexity of working in three languages, with many delegates unable to read, a lot now depends on how the mercurial and unpredictable president of Afghanistan presents the text when the Loya Jirga opens.

When asked to convene the meeting, even the chairman of the Loya Jirga, the veteran Afghan politician Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, questioned whether it was necessary.

He believed that a future US presence was already covered by an agreement signed off by a previous Loya Jirga.

The Loya Jirga process is a modern version of an old Afghan principle of elders gathering together to govern by consent.

“Consultation has a deep root in Afghan culture,” said Najib Amin, deputy head of policy for the Loya Jirga.

There are 14 separate categories of delegates including elders from remote places, but also some MPs, provincial councillors, a women’s section and representatives from NGOs.

Mr Amin said that the Loya Jirga would begin with a speech by President Karzai, which will set the tone, and it will then break into small groups where there would be a chance for delegates to express their views…

There has been a lively debate in the Afghan parliament over whether the Loya Jirga can approve the security deal with the US on behalf of the nation. But realistically it is hard to see parliament or the president rejecting a Loya Jirga decision.

The last-minute wrangling over the text was a surprise even to seasoned Karzai watchers as he pushes the talks beyond the brink, perhaps not realizing that the US would have walked away.

All the indications are that the “zero option” of no foreign troops in Afghanistan, remains a possibility.

One senior Western diplomat said that “the probability of success is 90%”. But 10% is an uncomfortably big number.

When Mr Kerry left Kabul after face-to-face talks last month, he believed he had the wording he wanted to allow troops to enter Afghan homes.

At the time the only outstanding issue appeared to be the issue of whether US troops should be tried in the US or in Afghanistan for any crimes committed on Afghan territory.

Both men agreed to leave this to be decided by the Loya Jirga.

Both the US ambassador here, James Cunningham, and the most senior US general, ISAF commander Joseph Dunford, have held lengthy talks at the presidential palace, investing time and energy in reaching an agreement.

‘Stakes are high’

Ideally the US would have wanted the agreement signed some months ago, to make proper planning as they draw down from almost 50,000 troops to around 10,000, and reconfigure the force as a training and advisory mission, with a small counter-terrorism element.

Failure to reach a deal quickly also jeopardises the contribution from other Nato forces – notably German, Turkish, and Italian – who have agreed to command regional headquarters after the end of 2014. And it would mean UK forces pulling out of their commitment to support the fledgling Officer Training Academy.

The agreement also includes a reference to the US commitment to fund Afghan forces at $4.1 billion a year.

So if there is no deal, that commitment too would be questioned by US lawmakers, impatient to cut funding wherever they can, and weary of Afghanistan.

Amrullah Saleh, the former head of the Afghan Intelligence service the NDS, said he was confident that the deal would be agreed on terms acceptable to both sides.

“The only thing that gives me high confidence and hope that this will not be a goodbye Jirga, but it will be a Jirga bonding the two nations together is that the stakes are high for the two nations,” he said.

“Abandoning a country as strategically located as Afghanistan will be committing the mistakes of previous world powers… the mission is not finished,” Mr Saleh added.

But the continued presence of US troops has significant critics. Wahid Mozhda, a member of the Movement Against Foreign Bases, said that the Americans had failed to defeat the Taliban with 100,000 troops – how would 10,000 manage to do the job? he asked.

As a reminder of continuing insecurity, a bomb close to the area where the Jirga is being held killed 10 and injured many more over the weekend. The Taliban have threatened to carry out further attacks.

Thousands of extra police have been drafted-in to lock-down the city centre to try to prevent further attacks.

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