Kabul Afghan President Hamid Karzai has dug his heels in, making it clear he's in no rush to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the U.S. to lay out what American troops who remain in the country after the majority of the forces leave next year can and cannot do.
Negotiations over the BSA, which will outline the U.S. military role in the country for the coming decade, have reached the "final, sensitive stage," Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told CBS News.
Karzai has now taken a direct role in the negotiations but his national security advisor, Rangin Datfar Spanta, is leading the negotiations for the Afghan government, and the eventual deal will have to be approved by the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly), Faizi told CBS News.
He said two issues remain in the way of an agreement with the United States. The first stumbling block is Washington's insistence that American troops maintain the right to launch offensive strikes "without limits," including missile strikes, detentions and night raids after the 2014 withdrawal, which Faizi said the Afghan government would, "clearly consider a violation of our national sovereignty."
Secondly, the Karzai administration wants a guarantee that the U.S. military will defend the Afghan homeland from "aggression or foreign attack," but there's no agreement on what exactly those terms define.
President Karzai said Tuesday in a meeting with tribal elders at the presidential palace that negotiations were ongoing to reach a mutual agreement on what defines "foreign aggression." Karzai pointed out that while another country might not carry out a military attack on Afghanistan directly, some nations could send militants into Afghanistan to kill civilians. It was a clear reference to long-time rival and next-door neighbor Pakistan.
Pakistan denies supporting any militant groups, but both the U.S. and the Afghan governments routinely point to the problem of Islamic militants from the Taliban, al Qaeda, and myriad other fundamentalist terror groups traveling across the border to commit attacks in Afghanistan and then returning to the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan to regroup.
If the United States doesn't consider such terrorist attacks "an aggression or foreign attack," and the BSA does not require the American military to protect Afghans from such attacks, "then what is the meaning of having (U.S.) military bases in Afghanistan," asked Faizi.
Karzai told the elders on Tuesday that if Afghan national sovereignty is not respected in the BSA, and the people of Afghanistan "do not feel safe," then the deal would have "no meaning" to the Afghan people, and it would not be ratified by the Loya Jirga.
While the U.S. is pushing for a BSA to be finalized by the end of October, Karzai has made it clear he's happy to let his predecessor take over the negotiations after he leaves office. National elections are set for April, and Karzai is not permitted to seek a third term as President under the Afghan constitution.
Atiqullah Baryalai, the former deputy Afghan Minister of Defense, told CBS News the longer the negotiations are drawn out, as the U.S. and Afghan sides try and cement a deal with their unilateral interests in mind, the greater the risk that the Taliban and other militant groups will take advantage of the infighting between the allies and try to undermine the achievements Afghanistan has made over the past 12 years.
Filed by CBS News' Mukhtar Ahmad