Afghan President Ignores Elders, Delays U.S. Deal

KABUL (AP) -

Afghanistan’s president stunned the United States on Sunday by saying he will not sign a security deal designed to allow American soldiers to stay until after next April’s elections, ignoring a recommendation by an assembly of Afghan elders and leaders that he do so by the end of 2013.

Hamid Karzai’s refusal to accept the Loya Jirga’s overwhelming approval of the Bilateral Security Agreement puts in doubt the question of whether the U.S. will keep troops in the country after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces in 2014.

“We want security, peace, and we want a proper election. You have asked me that I should sign it within a month. Do you think that peace will come within a month?” he asked the assembly.

Karzai’s stance could lead the United States to decide it no longer wants to pursue the long-delayed agreement allowing thousands of U.S. soldiers to stay beyond a 2014 deadline. Those forces primarily will primarily train and mentor government security forces that are still struggling to face a resilient Taliban insurgency on their own.

Karzai seems to be concerned about his long-term legacy; he doesn’t want to be seen as the Afghan leader who agreed to keep foreign troops in his country beyond 2014, when a NATO mandate ends and international military forces depart Afghanistan.

His move also could be an attempt to avoid taking personal responsibility for an agreement that some Afghans might see as selling out to foreign interests.

“If I sign it and peace does not come, who will be blamed for it by history? … So that is why I am asking for guarantees,” Karzai said.

The Loya Jirga has no legal weight and can only recommend to Karzai what he should do. Karzai is often tempestuous and mercurial, and his relations with the U.S. have been testy for years.

“You should sign it for this issue to be over,” former president Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the chairman of the Loya Jirga and Karzai’s one-time mentor, yelled at Karzai.

“This is our request. … And if the president does not sign it, I will promise you that as I am a servant of this nation … I will resign and I will leave this country,” the 89-year-old Mojaddedi said.