Testifying before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. special representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan outlined the support the bilateral security agreement, which took a year of hard negotiations before being finally drafted, has received since it was overwhelmingly approved last month by Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council of elders. However, Karzai has continued to maintain his stand by making new demands before signing it despite repeated U.S. reminders it must be done before year-end.
The agreement is needed to decide how many U.S. troops would be stationed in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led NATO forces complete their withdrawal by the end of 2014. Karzai also has said the agreement should be signed only by his successor after elections in April.
Dobbins told the Senators: "Based on the results of the Loya Jirga, expressions of public opinion throughout the country and discussions throughout my own visit to Kabul last week, I don't believe that there can be any serious doubt that the Afghan people want American and NATO forces to stay and recognize that the BSA is a necessary prerequisite."
He said the agreement is also the keystone of a much wider international commitment, involving over 70 countries ready to provide economic and security assistance, of about $4 billion, to Afghanistan beyond 2015.
"Given this coincidence of Afghan public and regional governmental opinion, I see little chance that the BSA will not be eventually concluded," Dobbins said.
He said delaying the signing "is in no one's interest" as it would add another element of uncertainty as Afghans prepare for their presidential elections. He warned the delay also would jeopardize fulfillment of the pledges of foreign assistance.
If the document is not signed by year-end, the United States may also decide to station no troops beyond 2014.
However, Dobbins assured that "we are not about to decide to abandon all we and the Afghan people have achieved over the past 12 years."
He said Afghanistan's regional neighbors, with the exception of Iran, also understand the importance of the BSA. The leaders of Russia, Pakistan, China and India have "all personally urged President Karzai to conclude the BSA," even if some of them may not be fans of a U.S. military presence in Central Asia. These leaders, however, recognize that without continued international military and economic support, Afghanistan risks falling back into civil war.
Dobbins said a stable, democratic, and secure Afghanistan is also in the U.S. national interest as it will act as a bulwark against al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
He reminded the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by President Obama and President Karzai in May 2012 included a provision to negotiate the BSA to govern future security cooperation.
ABC News quoted Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who heads the Senate Foreign Relations committee, as saying Karzai has "unwisely decided to gamble with the lives of millions of his citizens" and that such "brinksmanship is unwarranted and frankly insulting to the sacrifices made by the United States military and taxpayers..."
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the committee, agreed, adding Karzai is not "speaking for Afghanistan," the report said.
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