KABUL — For the second time in less than a week, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has picked a high-profile fight with his US allies, in the midst of a grand council that he convened to support a long-term security agreement with the United States.
US officials reacted with anger and exasperation Saturday after Karzai publicly accused US Special Forces troops of killing civilians in a raid on an Afghan home; US officials said it was an Afghan-led raid that killed only insurgents.
Moreover, Karzai’s aides continued to insist that even if the council, or loya jirga, ratified the bilateral security agreement with the United States, Karzai would not sign it until next year, after a presidential election to choose his successor, but before he leaves office.
The remarks from the president’s camp left many people wondering why Karzai had convened a loya jirga, bringing to Kabul 2,500 Afghan notables from around the country, dismissing most employees from work for six days, and locking down a city of 5 million so thoroughly that all roads to it were blocked for several days.
Even Karzai’s allies were at a loss to explain what he hoped to gain from the perplexing series of events around what was expected to be a straightforward deal. Karzai had earlier asked the Americans to delay signing the security agreement until a new president was elected, possibly allowing him to pass responsibility for the deal to his successor.
Karzai might also view a delay as a way to wring more concessions from the United States or retain political leverage, and avoid being seen as a lame-duck president. In another long telephone call Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Afghan leader that if the agreement is not signed within a month, there would be no agreement to sign.
Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said Saturday that Karzai felt that Kerry, in a conversation Faizi described as “tense,” was threatening him. “When the US secretary of state says if there is no agreement there will be no security, we can say there is pressure, there is threats,” Faizi said.
US officials have insisted that without a deal this year, they would not have time to prepare a US force for its mission after 2014, which the security agreement calls for. The Afghans dismiss that. “We don’t believe there’s any zero option,” Faizi said. “We believe if they have waited until now, they can wait five more months.”
“There is no deadline for us,” he added. “We have said that in the past.”
He said Karzai believed that the Americans could not be trusted to keep their agreement, and even though both sides agreed on the security agreement’s wording, he wanted to wait until after the election next April to test further conditions: whether US forces would stop raids on Afghan homes, help promote peace talks, and not interfere in the election.
Western diplomats saw that as effectively reopening talks on the security agreement, despite Karzai’s public agreement to its terms Wednesday.
“He’s negotiating in public,” one diplomat said.
“It’s a totally different situation when the president of a country has no trust in the US,” Faizi said. “That means everything, that’s a totally different way of doing things.”
When Karzai first brought up the idea of delaying the signing of the accord, in his opening remarks to the jirga on Thursday, US officials hastened to find a reliable translation of what he said. Many who were there could not believe their ears, including the US ambassador and US commander.
The part where he said he did not trust them and they did not trust him was clear enough, but not signing what he had agreed to sign once the jirga approved it was puzzling. As the Americans saw it, the delay risked bringing to a crashing and unsatisfactory end an investment of half-a-trillion dollars and 2,292 American lives, along with 1,105 other coalition deaths.
Only a week earlier, diplomats were calling Kerry “the Karzai Whisperer,” after he came to Kabul and resolved most of the deadlock over the security agreement in early October.
That term is used only ironically now. More recently, both the Americans and the Afghans have come away with sharply divergent accounts of what the two men had agreed to. According to one such account, Kerry said that President Obama would apologize for American conduct during the war, which Kerry and Obama’s aides denied had ever been discussed.