Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far resisted Washington's calls to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow for a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014, despite a recent recommendation by an assembly of tribal and political leaders that he do so. In Washington, RFE/RL correspondent Ahmad Shah Azami interviewed Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Eklil Hakimi, on how Kabul views the draft document and how it would like bilateral relations to play out.
RFE/RL: You represented Afghanistan in negotiating the still inconclusive Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. What were the main obstacles in negotiating the agreement?
Eklil Hakimi: We negotiated as two sovereign states and both sides wanted to find ways that somehow could serve their interests. This is the art of diplomacy that you can make it happen and find common ground. Out of 30 documents and 36 articles that we started with, we found common ground on almost all parts, all articles, and all provisions. Before we handed over the BSA text to the new team leaders, this was agreed that the new team should move forward from that point on. We came up with only five outstanding issues. Those were policy issues and we handed over to the teams and they worked it out in ways that at the end of the day, they found the solutions to those issues as well.
RFE/RL: After the recent Afghan Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, approved the BSA, some people questioned President Hamid Karzai’s new preconditions for signing the agreement. How would you respond to their criticism?
Hakimi: Well, the things that President Karzai is emphasizing now are those that are reflected in the recommendations of the consultative Loya Jirga. Out of their 31 recommendations, there are issues like peace and security that President Karzai is emphasizing now. Similarly they have called for a complete halt to raids on [Afghan] homes. We have been talking about these issues for quite some time. Even [U.S.] President Barack Obama sent a letter [about this issue]. According to the recommendations of the consultative Loya Jirga, we have also added that letter as an annex to the BSA text. So what we are saying is that now we should start the implementation of the BSA and move things ahead according to the spirit of the BSA. So it is not something new and it is not serving anybody’s interests. That is the national interest that we have been talking about and that is the reflection of our people’s requests.
RFE/RL: Given that the BSA has yet to be signed, what kind of partnership do you envision between Washington and Kabul post-2014?
Hakimi: A relationship based on trust. A relationship that could be defined to move things forward. We think that the BSA will serve us a basis for that kind of relationship. A relationship that could be expanded, that could be promoted, that could be matured, and also that could be elevated to the next level of partnership. Again, the BSA could be a basis for that relationship.
RFE/RL: How do you assess Afghan-U.S. relations during the past 12 years?
Hakimi: We have been fighting shoulder to shoulder for the last 12 years or so for a common cause and for shared values. These common and shared values bound us. We believe that we will prevail and we will make things happen in the way that we have done for so many years.
RFE/RL: Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001. In your view, what threatens the future of Afghanistan?
Hakimi: Afghanistan today reflects tremendous change. Politically, economically, socially and even on the security side, we have made a lot of progress. Now we have security forces that are a source of our pride. But we also do have some challenges. I think terrorism, drugs and good governance are the challenges and will remain challenges for some time.
RFE/RL: President Karzai has repeatedly said that the United States and Pakistan hold the key to peace and stability in Afghanistan. How can Washington and Islamabad help Kabul in achieving peace?
Hakimi: There are things that we have been hearing for quite some time, especially from our Pakistani friends. They made some promises. We would like to see them deliver on those promises. If we change our approach in a way to aim at delivering on our commitments, we can achieve a lot. So if we join hands in a way to make things happen on a gradual and systematic level, we can make things happen. But the first step will be how to create an enabling environment for intra-Afghan talks. I think that would be the first step toward a broader and comprehensive peace process.
RFE/RL: The Afghan government often claims that most militant sanctuaries are in Pakistan and that the United States should take its war to those sanctuaries. What do you hear from officials in Washington when Kabul makes such demands?
Hakimi: This is one of the main issues that we have been talking about for quite some time. Terrorists and insurgents receive all their support outside Afghanistan. That is still the case, unfortunately, after we have established some mechanism to tackle this issue. Hopefully we can address it in a way that we can make things happen and bring some changes in real terms. But we are not there yet.