Afghan, US officials sign long-delayed security pact

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KABUL: Officials from Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed a long-delayed security agreement to allow American troops to stay in the country after the end of the year, fulfilling a campaign promise by new President Ashraf Ghani.

National security adviser Hanif Atmar and US Ambassador James Cunningham signed the bilateral security agreement in a televised ceremony at the presidential palace, one day after Ghani was inaugurated.

The ceremony for the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) was witnessed by Ghani, Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah and top Afghan leaders, some of them former Jihadis.

Under the terms of agreement, about 12,000 foreign troops are expected to stay to train and assist Afghan security forces after the US-led military mission formally ends its combat mission at the end of 2014.

The agreement would give the US legal authority to maintain troops and bases in Afghanistan. It will also allow 10,000 to 16,000 boots on ground in nine bases. If signed, the agreement will come into effect from January 1, 2015.

The proposed stations for US forces include Kabul, Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar, Shorab, Gardez, Jalalabad and Shindand. Other locations may be agreed upon if authorised by the Afghan defence minister.

The US also seeks the use of dry ports, including areas along the Pak-Afghan border, namely Torkham in Nangarhar province, Spinboldak in Kandahar province, Toorghundi in Herat province, Hairatan in Balkh province and Sherkhan Bandar in Kunduz province.

Former President Hamid Karzai had refused to sign it as he had complained that the US had not accepted his demands for peace with the Taliban and to stop raids on Afghan homes.

The Taliban condemned the BSA and said the agreement means a long war and that with the signing, the “American servants have exposed their intentions.”

“With the same craving and hastiness, under the name of the Security Agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.

“With their (US) bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think that the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals. The importance of the Security Agreement for them lies in the fact that they want to indemnify their defeat in the open war and restitute their lost international credibility and influence,” Mujahid said in a statement.

Ghani defended the signing of the agreement and said, “These agreements do not pose any threat to our neighboring countries.”

Referring to controversial clauses of the BSA, he said foreign forces cannot enter mosques and other holy places. He, however, did not refer to the US forces’ search of houses that had been a matter of concern for Karzai’s government.

A Loya Jirga or grand assembly had approved the signing of the BSA last year, but Karzai had been reluctant to sign it.

Both countries had been consulting over the matter for nearly two years, particularly the controversial aspects of the BSA which include the issue of immunity for US soldiers and the exact locations for military bases.

In June last year, Karzai suspended talks on the BSA in reaction to the Afghan Taliban office in Qatar as the former president thought Washington had been behind the move to corner him.

The issue of foreign interference had also been a controversial topic, and Karzai wanted a firm pledge from the Americans to join forces with the Afghan military to respond to external threats.

“The United States shall regard – with grave concern – any external aggression or threat of external aggression against the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, recognising such aggression may threaten the parties’ shared interests in Afghanistan’s stability, and regional and international peace and stability,” an excerpt from the BSA states.

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