Karzai Refuses to Budge on Security Pact

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Omar Sobhani / Reuters

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the last day of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul Nov. 24, 2013.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai vented his frustration over continuing civilian casualties and home raids during NATO operations on Saturday, reiterating that he will not sign a key security agreement with the United States until Afghans stop getting caught in Western troops’ crossfire.

“I hope the United States is not going to put us in a situation where they say you either accept that we will give you billions, and in return we will have the right to attack your homes,” Karzai said, speaking to reporters in New Delhi on Dec. 14.

Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, which would keep some 15,000 foreign troops stationed around the country after most NATO forces are set to withdraw by the end of next year.

The BSA was endorsed in November by the Loya Jirga, a national assembly of Afghan elders who also urged the president to sign it by the end of the year.

But Karzai has said since that Afghanistan will not approve the pact until the U.S. ends attacks on civilians and their homes and helps initiate a peace process with the Taliban. “We have homes. We have families. We have mothers. We have children,” Karzai said. “And we have sensitivities that have to be respected.”

The clock is ticking. U.S. officials have said they will have to start preparing for a so-called “zero option” if the BSA is not signed soon. “Without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice told Karzai during a brief visit to Afghanistan in November, according to reports.

It’s a scenario that also puts billions of aid dollars flowing into the country at risk, and which many inside and outside the country worry will create a security vacuum and lead to a deadly escalation in violence. While Karzai himself seemed dismissive of the warning, calling it “brinkmanship” on Washington’s part, he acknowledged its impact could be harsh. “The zero option will have consequences for us, no doubt… We will be short of resources. Our military and police will suffer.”

It is, nevertheless, a risk the mercurial leader seems willing to take. As he prepares to step down from office after national elections slated for April, the Afghan President must be privately considering what legacy he will leave, and some have speculated that he may not want to be the leader remembered for having signed off on an ongoing U.S. military presence on Afghan soil.

Karzai, for his part, insists the stalemate is about respecting Afghan lives. During the Delhi briefing, he recalled a visit he made to a four-and-a-half-year-old girl in a U.S. hospital who was a victim of a bomb attack by Western forces pursuing the Taliban. He said fourteen members of the girl’s family were killed in the attack, and the explosion left her without a face.

“When I stood watching her, I really felt, ‘God why have you kept her alive? What life will she have without a family… and without a face?'” Afghanistan cannot agree to a security pact while Western troops continue to create this kind of collateral damage, he said. “How can you have the right to kill an entire family in the pursuit of a Talib that they think is sitting in the same bus?” he asked. “It is this that I want to stop.”

The Afghan leader was on an official visit to India, during which he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss regional security, military cooperation between the two nations, and the BSA, among other things.