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Karzai's U.S. visit paves way for U.S.-Afghan security pact

The recently concluded three-day official visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Washington has paved the way for the signing of the controversial security pact between the United States and Afghanistan, according to political observers here.

During his U.S. tour that ended Friday, Karzai's first during the year, no security pact was signed contrary to expectations here.

U.S. President Barack Obama, however, reassured Karzai of the U. S. long-term cooperation with Afghanistan.

Afghan political observers have described the U.S. visit as very significant in terms of maintaining cordial relations between the two countries.

"It was a very important visit during which both governments removed misunderstanding over some contentious issues related to the security pact," said Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political analyst and professor of the Kabul University.

According to Rafat, during their talks in Washington, D.C. the Obama administration agreed to hand over Bagram prison to Afghans and allowed the Afghan government to lead peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar as part of facilitating the signing of security pact.

However, Rafat said, there are still major issues to be resolved, such as the number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the U.S. military bases that they would keep, the sovereignty within the bases, and the annual economic support for Afghanistan. "These issues require more discussions by the two sides before any security agreement is signed," Rafat said.

At the end of Karzai's visit, President Obama reiterated the U. S. commitment to support Afghan stability by strengthening Afghanistan's economic foundations and supporting Afghan reforms so that the embattled country could achieve sustainable development and self-sufficiency.

A joint statement released after the Karzai-Obama meeting said: "As we further develop the U.S.-Afghanistan partnership, the United States and Afghanistan look forward to expanded cooperation under the auspices of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Commission, through 2014 and beyond. President Obama and President Karzai committed to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement as soon as possible; reaffirming that such an agreement is in both countries' interest."

According to the joint statement, both leaders also discussed the possibility of a post-2014 U.S. presence that is sustainable, that supports a capable and effective Afghan National Security Force, and that continues to pressure the remnants of al-Qa'ida and its affiliates.

"The Afghan president, during his meeting with U.S. leaders including the President, Defense Secretary and Secretary of State received assurances that U.S. administration will continue to stand alongside Afghanistan," said another political observer and Kabul University professor Faizullah Jalal.

Jalal said such assurances are significant for the future of Afghanistan particularly after the 2014 withdrawal of NATO-led troops from the country.

Analysts said the issue of immunity from prosecution of American soldiers stationed in U.S. bases would continue to be a ticklish matter that the two sides would have to address.

Some legislators, particularly those from the opposition, have warned that giving immunity from suits to American servicemen while they are in active duty would not sit well with the Afghan people.

But the Afghan government with poorly equipped security forces would not be able to overcome the security challenges in the absence of a security pact with Washington and the continued assistance from the United States and the international community.

Wahid Omar, former spokesman of Afghan Presidential Palace, said in a recent television panel discussion that the "U.S.troops will not totally withdraw and judicial immunity will be granted at last within the next one year."

[Source: By Abdul Haleem, Xinhua, Kabul, 14Jan13]

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