Senators, in Afghanistan, worry about delay in talks on US troop presence
By JAY PRICE AND REZWAN NATIQ | McClatchy Foreign Staff | Published: July 4, 2013
KABUL — Quickly rebooting stalled negotiations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a long-term agreement for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is crucial to maintaining stability in the war-torn country, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Thursday during an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital.
“We need to let the Afghan people know, and the Taliban and Pakistan, that America is not going to abandon Afghanistan,” McCain said.
Karzai suspended work on the agreement last month after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar in a ceremony that featured signs and a flag that made it clear they viewed the office as a kind of embassy that would help them gain more legitimacy in the international community.
The office was supposed to have been little more than a venue to allow peace talks to begin among his government, the Taliban and the U.S. government, and Karzai pinned some of the blame for the more grandiose presence on Washington, which had been involved in negotiations leading to the office’s creation.
Reassurances from U.S. leaders that they, too, were surprised and upset with the Taliban’s behavior apparently didn’t change Karzai’s mind.
Initially, U.S. leaders said they were confident that the discussions over the security agreement would resume soon. After meeting with McCain and Lindsey, though, Karzai issued a statement in which he said the Afghan people had lost faith in the United States in recent months and that talks over the security agreement wouldn’t start again until his negotiators had met with the Taliban.
That may not happen soon. The insurgents have long said they wouldn’t negotiate with Karzai, referring to him as a puppet of western government, and they’ve shown little interest in coming to the table since Karzai’s angry reaction to the way they opened the office.
Graham, R-S.C., said that the condition Karzai set to resume talks on the security agreement essentially would put control of whether U.S. troops remain here after 2014 in the hands of the Taliban.
Karzai was completely justified, though, in his anger about the way the Taliban political office was unveiled, McCain said.
McCain, R-Ariz., said that he had told Karzai it was crucial to finish the agreement as soon as possible and said that he would make the same point with the Obama administration on his return to Washington.
In his statement, Karzai said the two senators had promised to work hard to strengthen trust between the United States and Afghanistan and to convey Karzai’s views to President Barack Obama.
The Republican duo have made an annual ritual of war-zone visits to U.S. forces either in Iraq or Afghanistan on July 4 for a dozen years, McCain said.
As a pop band made up of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division played in the background, they talked with journalists briefly after participating in reenlistment, promotion and award ceremonies for troops in a garden at the main NATO base in central Kabul.
Natiq is a McClatchy special correspondent.