US hopes India will persuade Karzai on troops

Afghan President Hamid Karzai . Photo - AFP

The United States expressed hope Tuesday that India would persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a deal allowing US troops to stay, as lawmakers voiced outrage at the delay.

Testifying before a Senate committee, a senior US official voiced confidence that Afghanistan would eventually complete an agreement for some 12,000 US troops to stay after 2014, despite Karzai's insistence that he will leave the decision to his successor.

"His upcoming visit to India could, I think, be quite influential, because he highly respects and has good relations with the Indian government," said James Dobbins, the US special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Karzai visits India later this week.

Dobbins said that all regional powers -- except Iran -- had encouraged Karzai to sign the accord, which would authorize US troops to keep training Afghans after next year's official withdrawal of combat forces first sent in 2001 after the September 11 attacks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among the leaders who have encouraged Karzai to sign the agreement, Dobbins said.

"Several of these leaders are no fans of an American military presence in Central Asia, but all recognize that without continued international military and economic support, Afghanistan risks falling back into civil war," Dobbins said.

Such a war would lead to a "rise in extremist groups, outflow of refugees and disruptions in commerce that would threaten the region as a whole," Dobbins said.

India, where Karzai studied, has enthusiastically supported the US military role and poured economic aid into Afghanistan, whose former Taliban regime sheltered virulently anti-Indian militants and was allied with New Delhi's historic rival Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said on a weekend visit to Kabul that he received assurances that Afghanistan would eventually sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, which lays out future rules for foreign troops including limits on raids on homes.

Karzai initially endorsed the deal but later said the signature could take place only after the presidential election in April, warning against a NATO presence if it just meant "more bombs and killings."

His hesitation has outraged US officials and lawmakers, who have warned that Karzai has misread the mood in the United States, where polls have shown public opposition to any extension of America's longest war.

"This brinksmanship is unwarranted and, frankly, insulting to the sacrifices made by the United States military and taxpayers, and is not in Afghanistan's best interest," said Senator Robert Menendez, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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