Afghan loya jirga endorses Karzai's goals for U.S. security pact
REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A group of tribal elders and other community leaders on Saturday voiced approval of President Hamid Karzai’s conditions for a security pact with the United States after most combat troops leave in 2014.
The expression of support from the loya jirga, or grand council, is nonbinding, but the endorsement allows the Afghan leader to claim popular backing for his negotiating position in talks with the Obama administration.
In a speech to the 2,000-member gathering on Wednesday, Karzai called for an end to U.S.-led night raids on Afghan residential compounds and demanded an end to the taking of prisoners by Western forces.
Afghanistan and the United States have held months of talks about the shape of a long-term agreement on “strategic partnership.” Night raids -- which senior American commanders describe as one of the most effective methods of combating the insurgency -- are a key sticking point.
After 2014, Western troop activity is to be limited mainly to the training of Afghan forces. But most American officials foresee a continued counterinsurgency campaign, which would almost certainly include night raids.
Karzai, who is under perceived domestic political pressure to defend the country’s sovereignty, has often denounced the nighttime strikes on homes as a violation of Afghan cultural norms. However, Karzai is heavily dependent on Western support to prop up his unpopular presidency.
Loya jirga participants also expressed support in principle for continuing efforts to make peace with the Taliban. Those efforts were dealt a severe setback with the assassination in September of the former president who was the government’s point man on trying to open talks with the insurgents.
The assassin posed as a Taliban peace envoy with an important message for the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani. No successor to Rabbani has yet been named.
The four-day loya jirga was held amid extremely tight security, with checkpoints dotting the capital. The Taliban had threatened to attack the gathering, and assailants fired two rockets at the venue on Thursday, its second day, but they fell nearly a half-mile away.
Also Saturday, Afghan officials said two police officers were killed and three others wounded in a "friendly fire" incident involving coalition forces in Ghazni province, south of the capital. The Ghazni provincial police chief, Zarawar Zahid, said Western troops had failed to coordinate with Afghan police in the area. The NATO force said the incident was under investigation.
Photo: Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during the last day of the loya jirga in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday. Musadeq Sadeq / Associated Press