KABUL - Afghanistan’s president raised another condition Tuesday for a long-awaited strategic partnership with the United States: The accord must spell out the yearly US commitment to pay billions of dollars for the cash-strapped Afghan security forces.
The demand threatens to further delay the key bilateral pact and suggests that President Hamid Karzai is worried that the US commitment to his country is wavering as the drawdown of foreign forces nears.
The United States already pays the vast majority of the budget to train, equip, and run the Afghan security forces and expects to do so for years to come to compensate for Afghanistan’s moribund economy. But the yearly congressional budget process, as well as the American public’s weariness with the Afghan conflict, would make it difficult for Washington to commit to a dollar figure years in advance.
The strategic partnership agreement is crucial to the US exit strategy in Afghanistan. American officials hope it will both map the course for US forces after the majority of combat troops leave in 2014 and give the Afghan people confidence they are not about to be abandoned by their most important international ally.
But the talks have often snagged on what appear to be very different opinions of the two governments about what the goals of the document should be. US officials involved in the negotiations have said it is not meant to set forth exact rules, but to establish a framework between the two countries to continue to work together for years to come.
The Afghan government seems to want the exact opposite, repeatedly demanding concrete commitments and rules for US forces.
It sees the document as necessary to establishing Afghan sovereignty after years of letting policy be set by the international allies who bankroll the government.
Negotiations were dragging at the beginning of the year as Karzai asked for specific commitments from the United States before signing, but the main hurdles - agreements on the transfer of authority over detainees and the conduct of night raids - have been resolved in recent weeks.
Afghan and US officials are pushing to sign the deal before a NATO conference in Chicago in May, and with those two issues resolved, that goal appeared within sight.
Then Karzai said Tuesday that the United States needs to go further than vague pledges to continue to fund the Afghan army and police.
“They are providing us money, there is no doubt about that,’’ Karzai said in a speech in the capital marking the anniversary of the birth of a revered Afghan writer. “But they say they will not mention the amount in the agreement. We say: Give us less, but mention it in the agreement. Give us less, but write it down.’’
US officials have said they expect to pay about $4 billion a year to fund Afghan forces. Karzai said he wants a written commitment of at least $2 billion.
“You have to mention ‘at least’ in there,’’ Karzai said.
Neither side has said exactly how long this financial commitment is expected to last.
The comments suggest Karzai may be growing increasingly worried that the United States will not make good on funding pledges once there are drastically fewer American soldiers risking their lives on Afghan soil.
Many Afghans feel they were abandoned by the United States after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 and worry that the same thing will happen again when American troops depart.
The United States has already greatly reduced the money it spends on development programs in Afghanistan and the past year has seen a number of NATO nations trying to speed their exits from the country even as they continue to promise to support the Afghan government.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on Karzai’s demand.