A TRIBAL elders’ meeting to discuss the US-Afghanistan security deal will be held in the third week of November, officials said yesterday.
The key Afghan gathering will decide if America and its allies, including the UK, will keep troops in the country after 2014, or pack up and leave.
Sadeq Mudaber, a member of the convening commission, said that the consultative assembly of tribal elders, or Loya Jirga, will start between 19-21 November and could last as long as a week. He said he expected up to 3,000 people to attend.
US secretary of state John Kerry and president Hamid Karzai reached an agreement in principle a week ago on the major elements of a deal that would allow American troops to stay after combat troops serving with a Nato-led international military coalition depart at the end of next year.
But in making the deal, Karzai said a potentially deal-breaking issue of jurisdiction over those forces must be debated by the Loya Jirga before he makes a decision. He said on Friday: “In our recent negotiations with the US we also discussed another important topic and it was the topic of immunity for US troops in Afghanistan.
“The decision in this respect is beyond the capacity of Afghan government, and only the Afghan people maintain the authority to decide on it, and the Loya Jirga reflects the will of the Afghan people.”
If the Loya Jirga decides to tell Karzai that it is against American demands that US military courts and not Afghan ones have jurisdiction over any crimes committed by its forces serving here, then it is extremely unlikely that Karzai will sign the deal. If the Loya Jirga agrees, then the bilateral security agreement will be sent to parliament for approval.
The US wants to keep as many as 10,000 troops in the country to train and mentor the Afghan national security forces and pursue the remnants of al-Qaeda, but if no agreement is signed, all US troops would have to leave by the end of next year.
President Barack Obama said in an interview he would be comfortable with a full pullout of US troops.
Many American allies have also indicated they will not keep troops here if there is no US presence. Billions of dollars in funding for Afghan forces and development are also likely to be at stake.
In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart after US officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on the same issue that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain there. The US pulled out of Iraq after the deal collapsed. Although they are holding their own against the Taleban, the Afghan security forces are generally considered to be not yet fully prepared to tackle insurgents without further foreign training and international funding.
Violence has already escalated following the steady withdrawal of foreign troops. A suicide bomb attack on Friday against a foreign military convoy in Kabul killed two civilians.
The Loya Jirga will closely examine the 32-page deal, Mudaber said, with each section being examined by separate committees.
The commission that will organise the Loya Jirga is headed by former Afghan president Sebghatullah Mujadidi, who said he initially disagreed with holding it because the basic points had already been covered by a strategic partnership agreement that Karzai signed with Obama last year.
He was convinced to go through with the meeting, however, because of the importance of the deal.