AFGHAN president Hamid Karzai has called for a security pact with America to be delayed until after next year’s presidential elections.
Mr Karzai addressed about 2,500 tribal elders and political leaders at a grand council, or loya jirga, in the capital Kabul convened to decide if US troops should be allowed to stay after the December 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
The United States has said it will pull out entirely unless a bilateral security agreement is in place.
However, yesterday Mr Karzai told the assembly any agreement would have to wait until after next April’s election.
He said: “This pact should be signed when the election has already taken place, properly and with dignity.”
He added: “My trust with America is not good. I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me. During the past ten years I have fought with them and they have made propaganda against me.”
Mr Karzai is barred by the constitution from running for a third term.
A senior Afghan official said Mr Karzai intended to leave the pact unsigned until he was sure the international community would not interfere in the election. Mr Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the parliament and loya jirga would also have to agree any US pact.
“Once we are assured of peace and security, and transparent elections, then President Karzai will sign this pact after the election if this is approved by the loya jirga and passed by the parliament,” Mr Faizi said. He did not explain how Mr Karzai intended to sign the document after a new president had been elected.
Mr Karzai has told Washington that if both countries were unable to agree on a deal, the issue could be taken up again after the next election. But the future of the agreement was thrown back into confusion following Mr Karzai’s remarks.
The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment but US officials have said they would not allow the pact to be delayed that long, as it would be too close to the end of next year when the Nato combat mission ends.
Over the next few days loya jirga delegates will debate the draft and decide whether they want US troops to stay. Mr Karzai called on delegates to try to drum up public support for a pact many regard with contempt. As he spoke about US assurances, a female senator leapt up and shouted any deal with the US amounted to selling out.
“President Karzai just doesn’t want to own the agreement,” said Kate Clark of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network think-tank. “He kept handing the responsibility to the delegates of the loya jirga.”
During his speech, Mr Karzai waved a letter from US president Barack Obama which he said promised America would continue to “respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes … just as we do for our citizens”.
Mr Obama said many Americans had died or been seriously wounded in an effort to help and protect Afghan people after the ousting of the Taleban in December 2001.