Afghanistan’s Abdullah calls for ‘responsible’ US exit plan
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Afghan presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah called for a “responsible” US exit strategy in an interview with FRANCE 24 shortly after US President Barack Obama announced plans to keep 9,800 troops in the country after 2014.
“What is important for Afghanistan is the continuation of the cooperation. Some of the details of the (Obama’s) announcement are still to be made clear,” said Abdullah in an interview with FRANCE 24 from the Afghan capital of Kabul on Wednesday.
“What we’re stressing is the issue of a responsible exit. That is important because nobody would like to see a situation that can have the potential to lead to the earlier situation before the  intervention by the US,” he added.
Abdullah’s cautious response to Obama’s much-awaited foreign policy speech came in sharp contrast to outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s reaction.
In a statement released late Wednesday, the Afghan presidential office welcomed the announcement.
"The United States has announced that it will reduce its combat troops and bring the total to a zero," read the statement. "The Afghan president is calling on insurgents to use this historic opportunity and end the war."
Timeline proposal questioned
In his speech Wednesday, Obama outlined plans to keep some US troops in Afghanistan following the 2014 combat troop pullout deadline. The timeline for the withdrawal would include spreading 9,800 troops across the country from early 2015. By the end of 2016, fewer than 1,000 troops are set to remain to guard the US embassy, train Afghan troops and provide a “security assistance component”.
Critics of Obama’s policy as well as several Afghan security experts have questioned the wisdom of providing a withdrawal timeline that could help the Taliban plan its insurgency.
But Abdullah, who faces a presidential runoff vote next month, has expressed the hope that a signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Afghanistan and the US could help secure the country.
“There's the prospect of signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement by the future president of Afghanistan and then that will clear the way for a framework of cooperation – long-term cooperation,” said Abdullah.
Karzai has refused to sign the security agreement which would leave a small contingent of US troops in the country beyond 2014.
Both Abduallah and his rival Ashraf Ghani have indicated that they would sign the BSA if they are elected in the June 14 second round of the Afghan presidential election.
‘Talking to the Taliban should continue’
Abdullah, a former advisor to Afghan anti-Taliban resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, is considered the frontrunner in the June 14 vote. Massoud, a Tajik warlord, was slain by al Qaeda militants before the 2001 US invasion when the Taliban had provided safe havens to Osama bin Laden and his fighters.
During the pre-2001 anti-Taliban struggle, Abdullah, as Massoud’s spokesman, was often seen as the face of the Afghan struggle against the hardline Pashtun movement. Abdullah is of mixed Pashtun and Tajik parentage.
When asked about his position on negotiating with the Taliban, Abdullah did not rule out the possibility. But he was more circumspect about the chances of success than Karzai, who increasingly embraced the prospect as the Afghan president’s relations with Washington deteriorated.
“Talking to the Taliban should continue, the door to talks and negotiations should be open,” said Abdullah. “At the same time, we have to assure our people that we are going to defend our people against violence. So we'll take the issue of talks and negotiations very seriously. At the same time, the country should be prepared. If the negotiations do not work, of course, we will have to defend our people, their lives, their rights.”
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