President Hamid Karzai has signalled that a deal to allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan was close to collapse as the NATO combat mission withdraws after a decade of fighting the Taliban.
Late last year, Karzai made a surprise decision not to promptly sign the bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the US, despite a “loya jirga” national assembly voting for him to do so.
Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Karzai’s manoeuvring over the deal, stressing that negotiations were completed in November and that it is ready to sign the mutually agreed text.
“Afghanistan will absolutely not accept or sign anything under pressure,” Karzai told reporters in Kabul on Saturday.
“If they want to leave, then they go and we will continue our lives… Our main condition is the practical start of peace process.”
The US had earlier pushed for the BSA to be signed by the end of October so that the NATO military coalition could schedule the withdrawal of its troops by the end of this year.
But the deadline has slipped as Karzai refused to sign and even suggested that his successor could make the final decision after presidential elections due on April 5.
The election may not produce a final winner until August after a second-round run-off and extended deal-making.
Karzai on Saturday repeated that before he signs the BSA, the US must stop military operations and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
“The start of a peace process would mean that no foreigners can benefit from the continuation of war,” Karzai said.
“We want to make sure that after the signing of BSA, Afghanistan will not go towards feudalism, so that no foreigner (can) create a weak central government with satellites in the provinces controlled by foreigners.”
About 58,000 NATO-led combat troops who are still in Afghanistan are due to leave by the end of 2014.
Washington is proposing that 5000 to 10,000 US soldiers are deployed from 2015 to train and assist Afghan security forces in their battle against the Taliban militants.
Karzai said that a recent US airstrike that killed civilians in Parwan province and a Taliban suicide attack in a Kabul restaurant that killed 21 people, including 13 foreigners, proved the failure of the US to start a peace process.