Ambassador: Karzai won’t budge on security pact

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan privately warned the Obama administration that it was unlikely to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to meet its deadline to sign a security agreement.

The Washington Post reports that U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham wrote in a classified cable that he did not think Karzai would sign the security pact before the country’s April presidential elections.

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The Obama administration had demanded that Karzai sign the pact before the end of 2013, threatening to withdraw all U.S. troops at the end of 2014 if he did not do so.

The White House, however, has backed off of that deadline, and said this week that Karzai had to sign it in “weeks and not months.”

Last fall, the U.S. had believed that the bilateral security agreement was finalized, but then Karzai said he would not sign it until after the presidential elections. Even Afghan tribal leaders endorsed the pact and urged Karzai to sign the agreement, he refused to do so.

Karzai has also publicly doubted the seriousness of the so-called “zero option,” and suggested the Obama administration will not follow through with that threat.

If Cunningham’s assessment is correct, Karzai’s refusal to sign the agreement will further inflame U.S.-Afghan tensions and threaten the future presence of U.S. forces in the country after 2014, when NATO will hand off security to the Afghans.

In another swipe at the United States, Karzai said Thursday that Afghanistan will release 72 of the 88 detainees at the Parwan detention facility at Bagram Airfield, despite U.S. objections.

The U.S. has urged Karzai not to release the detainees, saying they are responsible for the deaths of Afghan U.S. and NATO troops, as well as Afghans. The Afghan government, however, has concluded there is no evidence against the detainees.

The U.S. wants to keep 8,000-to-10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, but military leaders have warned that waiting until April or later to reach an agreement won’t give them time to plan for a post-2014 force.