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Hamid Karzai tells loya jirga: no US military pact until night raids cease

Posted by The Agonist on November 17th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Jon Boone | Kabul | Nov 16

The GuardianAfghanistan president outlines conditions for continued presence of US troops, saying Kabul wants national sovereignty

Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan president, addresses 2,000 elders in Kabul on the country’s most pressing issues, including its ties with the US. Photograph: Reuters
Hamid Karzai has told a national gathering of Afghan elders that he will not sign a much-delayed military pact with the US until night raids by foreign forces come to an end, a demand that threatens to complicate the deal.

In a fiery speech on Wednesday, at the opening session of a loya jirga, a grand assembly of more than 2,000 delegates held amid tight security, the Afghan president said continued US military and economic help beyond the end of the Nato combat mission in 2014 was vital to avoid civil war.

But he presented himself as the leader of a proud country whose national sovereignty must be respected and set firm conditions before any such deal could be concluded. “We want to have a strong partnership with the US and Nato, but with conditions,” he said. “We want our national sovereignty, and an end to night raids and to the detention of our countrymen.”

Night raids and Nato-run prisons have long been the main sticking points between the two sides during private negotiations. Some diplomats have predicted the president’s rhetoric on the raids could reduce room for compromise and delay the signing of a strategic partnership.

Many Afghans regard night raids and house searches as grave insults to the Afghan tradition of respect for the sanctity of private homes. However, military commanders say such operations are an effective tool against Taliban fighters, which they claim has the added advantage of minimising Afghan and Nato casualties compared with similar operations carried out in daylight.

An Afghan official said Karzai did not expect to achieve a complete end to night raids, but wanted Afghans to be put in charge of such operations. “That’s what needs to change to give true meaning to Afghan sovereignty and an equal partnership,” the official said.

In a portion of his speech that prompted applause and cheering, Karzai said western powers should not “interfere in our internal affairs”. “The relationship between us and the Americans should be like two independent countries, definitely independent.”

In recent years foreign pressure to curb corruption and to root out fraud during the 2009 presidential election has been resented by Karzai.

To the delight of his audience he said that although the US is powerful, Afghanistan was nonetheless a “lion”. “In the jungle everyone is scared, even of the sick lion,” he said. “America should treat us like a lion. We are ready to sign a strategic agreement between a lion and the US.”

Despite his denunciation of US military tactics, Karzai praised progress made in developing Afghanistan in the past 10 years and insisted the country must strike a long-term pact to avoid slipping back into civil war, as happened after the US lost interest in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.

It was a view echoed by the jirga’s chairman, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, a former president of the country, who said a strategic partnership was vital to curb interference in Afghan affairs by Pakistan. “If Pakistan thinks the Afghan nation will be a slave and puppet government they are just dreaming,” he said.

Karzai also sought to reassure Afghanistan’s neighbours, who are wary of a long-term US presence in the country. Karzai promised the US would never be allowed to launch strikes against other regional powers from “Afghan soil”.

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