New Demands Threaten Afghan-US Deal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not sign a security deal with the United States until some of his conditions are met, despite overwhelming approval by other parties involved. Among Karzai's demands for the security deal is a commitment by the U.S. to stop raids on Afghan homes, and to release Afghan prisoners from the prison at Guantanamo Bay. He also says the demands come not from him but from a consultative body of elders, who came together last week to weigh in on the deal. U.S. national security advisor Susan rice said that these last-minute additions are being demanded to a bill that had already been hammered out successfully, and that the U.S. will begin immediately withdrawing all troops from the country if an agreement is not signed.

"If U.S. military forces conduct military operations on Afghan homes even one more time, then there will be no BSA and we won't sign it," Karzai said this Sunday. "They should give assurance about this to us before I sign it."

Afghan-U.S. peace talks have been going on for quite some time, prolonged by seemingly irreconcilable demands on the two sides. In an unannounced meeting with secretary of state John Kerry over a month ago, Karzai said that he will not back down from his demands. After, he told the BBC that any agreement has to "suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes."

The threat of completely withdrawing troops from Afghanistan is known as the "zero option." Experts say such an action would be similar to withdrawing troops from Iraq two years ago. Because of the heavy instability in the tribal mountain regions of his country, Karzai is caught balancing his desire for autonomy with his desire to hold power — something that might be threatened if the U.S. completely withdraws from the country.

But despite Karzai's claims to the contrary, the security agreement was approved by the Loya Jirga, the council of elders, and he had previously said that the council would have the final word on the security deal. At the convention of 2,500 elders, Karzai announced that any agreement would not be signed until 2014 — after his next presidential election. "He is now in confrontation with his own nation as well as the United States," a politician in Kabul told Reuters.

The U.S. is unlikely to yield to Karzai's demands because of the security threat that Afghanistan continues to pose, and a lack of trust in the Afghan leader. Though the Obama administration has been looking to relocate the prisoners currently housed in Guantanamo Bay, it seems unlikely that they'll be returned to the lawless borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.