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Karzai calls for partnership with US as Afghan elders convene

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-11-16

Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged elders convening for a grand council on Wednesday to help shape a fair partnership with the US that would oversee the drawdown of American troops and possible negotiations with the Taliban.

AP - Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Wednesday on elders assembled for a national conference to help create a fair framework for relations with the U.S. and find a path to peace for the turbulent country.

Karzai spoke at the opening of a “loya jirga,” or grand council, which will discuss a proposed strategic partnership with the United States that would oversee the American military presence here as troops draw down, as well as possible peace talks with the Taliban.

Karzai urged the roughly 2,000 delegates to consider both the need for international help and the need to make sure Afghans are setting the rules in their own country.

“We want to have a strong partnership with the U.S. and NATO, but with conditions,” Karzai said. “We want our national sovereignty, and an end to night raids and to the detention of our countrymen. We don’t want parallel structures alongside our government.”

The roughly 100,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan operate without any bilateral agreement governing their actions, though the majority of them are under a U.N. mandate.

The jirga could give Karzai political cover for negotiations over a deal to keep some American troops in Afghanistan for another decade despite opposition from his people and the war-weary U.S. public.

Karzai has set out terms for a possible partnership - such as banning international troops from entering any Afghan home and taking control of all detention facilities almost immediately - that have so far been unacceptable to American officials, according to those familiar with the discussions.

U.S. officials have said that they support the jirga and its attempt to make sure that tribal leaders are ready to accept a partnership agreement.

Karzai noted that the Afghan government is also working on partnerships with France, Britain, Australia and the European Union but that with the large U.S. presence in Afghanistan it was particularly important to get input from tribal leaders on the accord with the Americans.

Few expect the four-day loya jirga to produce much of substance, both because its legal status is unclear and because there is no draft accord to present to the assembled elders.

Parliamentarians say the meeting is unconstitutional because it sidelines the legislature, which should be the body to consider such national issues.

Karzai stressed that this meeting is only to serve as an advisory gathering in an apparent attempt to calm these critics. He also called on delegates to stay focused on the two designated topics.

“This jirga is only for the partnership and peace, nothing else,” Karzai said, addressing concerns that he might use the gathering a way to gain backing for a constitutional amendment that would allow him to run for a third term.

The Taliban have condemned the meeting as an attempt by the U.S. to justify a permanent presence in Afghanistan, promising to launch attacks to disrupt it.

Much of Kabul went into a security lockdown ahead of the meeting, with extra roads closed and intelligence agents swarming around the meeting hall on the outskirts of the city.

At the last such meeting - a “peace jirga” held last June - Taliban insurgents fired into the tent, disrupting the gathering but causing no casualties. Since then, a new hardened structure has been built that should in theory be less vulnerable to incoming fire.

Separately on Wednesday, NATO said that one of its service members died in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan, without providing further details. At least 12 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month.

Date created : 2011-11-16


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