KABUL, November 23, 2013 -- An influential Afghan politician says he opposes President Hamid Karzai's proposal to postpone signing a security pact with the United States.
Former Afghan President and parliament speaker Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, who is presiding over a Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, of thousands of tribal and political leaders taking place in Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan on November 23 that Karzai has no right to ask the delegates to approve a delay in the pact's signing.
"It is a mistake and a blunder because the United States has consented to everything -- the preconditions that President Karzai asked for -- but he is still keen on delaying the deal?" Mojaddedi said. "A delay will be a loss and misfortune for Afghanistan. Such proposals are against Afghanistan's interest and unacceptable."
Karzai told the Loya Jirga delegates on November 21 that the agreement might have to wait to be signed until after Afghanistan's presidential election in April.
In response, U.S. officials said the deal must be finalized by the start of 2014, but Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said on November 22 that Afghanistan does not recognize U.S. "deadlines."
The Bilateral Security Agreement could clear the way for the United States to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw at the end of 2014.
A statement by Karzai's office on November 23 said that the president held a long telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late the previous evening.
The statement said that, in response to Kerry's insistence that Afghanistan sign the security pact before the end of the current year, Karzai told Kerry that Kabul will sign the pact after international troops cease attacking Afghan homes, back the Afghan peace process wholeheartedly, and guarantee a free and fair presidential election in April.
Faizi said that, in his farewell speech to the Loya Jirga expected on November 24, Karzai will explain his "reasons" for insisting to postpone signing the agreement until after the presidential vote.
The disagreements over the signing of the pact have overshadowed the four-day Loya Jirga, which is widely expected to reflect Karzai's wishes in its final vote.
With reporting by Reuters