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Afghan-U.S. security pact in limbo on eve of crucial debate

The United States and Afghanistan scrambled to try to finalize a crucial security pact on Wednesday, a day before thousands of Afghan elders were due to start debating whether to allow U.S. troops to stay in the country after 2014.

Without the accord, the United States has warned it could withdraw all of its troops by the end of next year and leave Afghan forces to fight alone against a Taliban-led insurgency.

The last-minute politicking between Kabul and Washington provoked frustration among the Afghan tribal and political elders who made perilous journeys from all over the country to the capital Kabul for a grand assembly to debate the pact.

"What is happening with the security pact is very confusing for us," said Abdul Hanan, a senator from the eastern province of Paktia.

Last-ditch efforts to finalize the pact stalled on Tuesday amid disagreement over whether U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed to issue a letter acknowledging mistakes made during the 12-year Afghan war.

"The final language is not ready between the two governments," said Aimal Faizi, the Afghan president's spokesman, adding the U.S. State Department was right to say that work remained to be done.

The Afghan government said it had received assurances that an Obama letter would be provided this week to the grand council of Afghan elders, known as a Loya Jirga.

But Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, insisted that such an offer - which would draw criticism from Republicans and anger American war veterans - was "not on the table".

Intense negotiations continued late into the evening in Kabul and in Washington on Wednesday but there was no immediate comment from either side on their progress.

National Interests

The drawdown of Western troops has allowed tentative peace overtures between Kabul and the Taliban to gather pace, and Afghan officials arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday to initiate talks.

The Taliban have nonetheless condemned the Loya Jirga as a farce, and security has been tight in Kabul following a suicide bomb attack near the assembly ground over the weekend.

Insurgents fired two rockets at the tent where the last Loya Jirga was held in 2011, but missed the delegates.

If the two sides cannot agree on a pact, President Hamid Karzai has suggested submitting different versions of the document for the Loya Jirga to decide on.

That caused confusion among Jirga members gathering in Kabul.

Khan Ali Rotman, who runs a Kabul youth organization, said if the pact was not in Afghanistan's national interests, "we will raise our voice and not vote for it".

But a Kabul senator, Khan Mohammad Belaghi, said Afghanistan had no choice but to sign:

"We have to have a partnership with a country like the United States and we will vote in favor of it because it can protect us from threats from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, and the Taliban."

Violence spiraled on the eve of the meeting, with the Taliban attacking two high-ranking police officials.

Gunmen ambushed and killed the police chief of Marja district in the southern province of Helmand on his way to work, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Also in the south, guards shot dead a suicide bomber trying to force his way inside the house of the Kandahar provincial police chief, said Hamid Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the police. Later a bomb exploded at a hotel a few doors away, killing three and wounding 14, he said.

[Source: By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi, Reuters, Kabul, 20Nov13]

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small logoThis document has been published on 21Nov13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.