As negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States get underway for a bilateral security agreement, US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham said he is confident the question of whether US troops can be prosecuted in Afghanistan will be resolved.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other leading officials have voiced their opposition to any security pact with the Americans which allows troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 with ‘immunity’ from Afghan prosecution should they commit a crime.
But Cunningham said it is not a question of immunity, but rather one of jurisdiction. And it is a question that comes up with any deployment of troops anywhere in the world, not just Afghanistan.
“There’s no doubt that people who violate laws should be punished, so it’s a question of the jurisdiction over individuals, not of saying somehow they are immune,” he told TOLOnews in an exclusive interview.
“This is an issue every place where any country has its forces based abroad. It’s not just an American issue, it’s an issue for all of our partners in all the places where we operate… In all those places we have been able to come to an understanding of how we will deal with those issues and I’m confident that we will do that here.”
The discussion over the security agreement “has only just barely begun”, Cunningham said, with a lot of details to be worked through – a process he believes may take another year.
Seeking to alleviate fears of Afghanistan’s neighbours over such an agreement, Cunningham said the aim of the US is not to have permanent bases in the region.
“There’s a couple of things to make clear to any of Afghanistan’s neighbours who are uncertain about what our intent is in the region. The first is that we are not looking for any permanent facilities here,” he said.
“Our role here will be an agreed role with Afghanistan. We do not intend, as our forces now, we do not intend that our presence here will pose a threat to any country in the region and we never have.”
Despite high levels of dissatisfaction with the war among the American public, Cunningham said the people are not averse to a continuing presence in the country but they want to see it reach its aims.
“I think there is still a great deal of support among Americans for what we’re trying to do here if we can show them that we are succeeding and it’s working,” he said, adding that there is a sense of obligation and commitment.
“We don’t want what we’ve achieved over the last years to be undermined and to be lost,” he said.
However he acknowledged that just as the military commitment is lowered, so too the financial and human resources invested will be reduced, although there will still be substantial assistance.
“We have gone past already the high water mark for our development assistance, so it is coming down. As is the civilian presence,” he said.
“Part of transition is reducing the foreign presence and the Afghans move into the lead, and that’s as it should be. But transition doesn’t mean we’re leaving in any way. After 2014 I think, I know that we will still have a very substantial international assistance program in Afghanistan for years to come.”
On the question of progress with the Taliban peace deals, Cunningham admitted that they are not progressing.
“There’s not yet any clear way ahead,” he said.
“I can’t really get into that except to say that we have made clear what our views and intentions are. And we’ll have to see if that process goes anywhere. That’s all I am going to say about that.”
He said that if an agreement could be made prior to the 2014 presidential election for the Taliban to participate, the US would “very much favour” that.