It has been reported that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday reached a preliminary agreement on a bilateral security pact that now depends on approval by Afghanistan's tribal leaders. The pact, announced jointly by Kerry and Karzai after two days of talks in the capital, Kabul, would keep some U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
It includes a key U.S. demand to retain legal jurisdiction over the troops that will remain in Afghanistan, which would give them immunity from Afghan law.
It will be up to the country's Loya Jirga, an assembly of elders, leaders and other influential people, to decide whether to accept it.
"Tonight we reached some sort of agreements," Karzai told a news conference, speaking through an interpreter.
U.S. officials said they wanted the pact finalized by the end of October and Kerry's visit was seen as a last-ditch effort to push the deal through before the deadline. The United States is insisting it cannot agree to a deal unless it is granted the right to try US citizens who break the law in Afghanistan at home in the United States.
A senior US administration official said the sides had agreed on language in the draft deal that covers the issue of immunity and "that can be put to his Loya Jirga for their consideration."
"We need to say that if the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then unfortunately there cannot be a bilateral security agreement," Kerry told a news conference.
Karzai said the talks had focused on protecting Afghan sovereignty and that major differences had been resolved, including a US request to run independent counter-terrorism missions on Afghan territory. Such operations carried out by the United States have long infuriated the Afghan president, who had been demanding Washington agree to share intelligence instead.
Karzai said the U.S. snatching of a senior Pakistani Taliban commander was an example of the kind of action that Afghanistan wanted to avoid.
"This is an issue that we have raised in earnest with the United States in the past few days as we have all previous occasions of such arrests in which the Afghan laws were disregarded," Karzai said, referring to the capture of commander Latif Mehsud.
"Therefore our discussion today in particular has been focused on making sure that through the bilateral security agreement such violations are not repeated."
Kerry attributed the complaint to a misunderstanding.
"We followed the normal procedures that the United States follows, we did what we are supposed to do," he said.
In view of the negotiations, which have taken place between the two countries, following are some observations:
* Agreement on discussion of issues that effect the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan is a positive signal.
* Agreement on the need to further consider steps for resolution of differences is a welcome development.
Understanding between the two countries is primary to establishment of a framework for peace and stability in Afghanistan. The international community is closely watching what transpires as a result of these efforts.
* The United States will want its military troops to have legal protection through immunity by the Afghan law. The Afghan tribal leaders will want an upper hand by demanding that in case of a breach, the Afghan government may be authorized to decide on the fate of a soldier. It is highly unlikely that American government would agree to provide Afghans with such a jurisdiction. This will be a contentious issue and may lead to further tensions. However, an agreement on the modalities of this proposal could be reached, but it will take a longer time and may not be able to satisfy all members of the Afghan advisory council.
* The United States will have to keep in view the sensitivity of Afghanistan regarding its sovereignty. Afghanistan has openly condemned the killing of its civilians in military raids carried out by Nato and ISAF troops against the terrorists on its soil. This has been a major cause of tensions.
Any progress in reaching a full agreement will require flexibility and understanding on both sides. Peace and long term stability in South Asia is dependent on the successful signing and implementation of this agreement. It is advisable that negotiators on both sides value the importance of this opportunity and try to minimize their differences. They should agree on continuation of talks at high levels of the government, even if an agreement is not reached at this time. Diplomacy is still considered to be a viable option, as was shown in the recent cases of Syria and Iran.
Dawn News October 13, 2013