The assembly of Afghan elders known as the Loya Jirga didn’t quite go as expected. Many thought the meeting of tribal leaders and politicians was going to inevitably turn into a session of unabashed criticism of the United States and its plan to keep as many as 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the NATO forces withdraw next year. Instead, “it ended Sunday as a showdown between those delegates and the man who summoned them to Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai,” notes the Washington Post. Karzai had called the grand assembly to ratify his decision to seal the deal with the United States. And the leaders agreed it had to be signed, telling Karzai he should put pen to paper as quickly as possible. But in the end, Karzai said he would only sign the deal after the April 5 elections, demanding further negotiations and concessions from the United States.
When the meeting was ending, assembly chairman Sibghatullah Mojeddedi told Karzai that “If you don’t sign it, we will be disappointed,” reports Reuters. Karzai made it clear he didn’t much care: “Fine!” Karzai didn’t actually say why he was putting off the signing of the deal that U.S. officials have repeatedly said should be sealed before the end of the year in order to begin planning for post-2014. Karzai said that the United States would have to agree to stop all raids on Afghan homes in order for the deal to be signed. “If Americans raid a house again, then this agreement will not be signed,” he said.
While some think Karzai could be trying to get more concessions out of the United States, others are speculating he could also be using the deal as a way to ensure he has some political influence over the elections, in which he is not allowed to run, notes the Associated Press. He could use his signature of the agreement as leverage to get the United States to support a candidate of his liking, or, even more simply, prevent Washington from backing someone he doesn’t support.
Some diplomats are cautioning Karzai may be overplaying his hand. “He’s definitely pushed too far,” one diplomat tells the New York Times. “There’s a general consensus that he’s overestimated the importance to the Americans of the agreement and is thinking that they must have it at all costs. The Americans internally are very clear: that it’s not a vital strategic interest, and he doesn’t get that.”