Kabul: Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has lined up a high-profile negotiating team to thrash out a critical long-term security deal with the US, raising hopes that talks suspended in June might restart soon.
National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta and former finance minister Dr Ashraf Ghani will represent Kabul in negotiations on security agreement when they start, said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai.
In a further glimmer of hope for diplomats, Faizi said while Karzai had not yet decided to restart talks, a national convention to approve a final draft could be held within two months, suggesting he is considering authorising a new round of negotiations.
The security agreement will provide a framework for US soldiers to stay on in Afghanistan after the Nato combat mission ends next year. The troops will not fight on the ground but are expected to train Afghan forces and provide vital support in areas where the national army is weak, from intelligence to air power. Without them the Afghan army and police will probably struggle to hold off the Taliban.
If there is no deal, billions of dollars of promised aid to pay salaries for the large Afghan security forces and develop the fragile economy are unlikely.
US Ambassador James Cunningham and US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, will represent the US side. They know Spanta and Ghani, who helped secure a deal for the handover of Bagram prison from the US. Karzai suspended talks after the Taliban opened an office in Doha — a move, he argued, that violated US promises about how the political office would work. While the impasse has remained, an informal late October deadline set by the US is approaching fast.
Karzai said a resumption of talks would depend on the peace process being entirely Afghan but has offered little clarity over how he might determine that.
Faizi said the government was in no hurry. “That date [for resuming talks] is up to the president. Its a very important document, so we don’t want to make blunders and mistakes ? We are not in a hurry, better to have a good document, or the US can sign one with the next government.”
But he said a loya jirga — a traditional gathering of delegates from around the country, which Karzai has promised will be convened to approve any deal — may happen this autumn.
With the document in place, negotiations are set to move up a notch. The draft is believed to be more than two-dozen pages. And there are still sticking points. “This will be a stage of political bargaining,” said Faizy, adding that the main obstacle from Kabul’s perspective was US reluctance to provide “assurances about strengthening the Afghan economy and security forces”, or a guarantee of protection from “foreign aggression”.
With an election in April 2014 and a deal needed in time for the US to arrange the removal of people and equipment, Dunford has said the deal is vital. The Guardian