In his final address to Afghanistan’s parliament Saturday, President Hamid Karzai told the United States its soldiers can leave at the end of the year because his military, which already protects 93 percent of the country, was ready to take over entirely.
He reiterated his stance that he would not sign a pact with the United States that would provide for a residual force of US troops to remain behind after the final withdrawal, unless peace could first be established.
The Afghan president has come under heavy pressure to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, with a council of notables that he himself convened recommend that he sign the pact. The force would train and mentor Afghan troops, and some US Special Forces would also be left behind to hunt down al-Qaeda.
All 10 candidates seeking the presidency in April 5 elections have said they would sign the security agreement. But Karzai himself does not appear to want his legacy to include a commitment to a longer foreign troop presence in his country.
Karzai was brought to power in the wake of the 2001 US-led invasion and subsequently won two presidential elections — in 2004 and again in 2009. But he has in recent years espoused a combatative nationalism, with his hour-long speech Saturday no exception.
“I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere,” he said.
Karzai said the war in Afghanistan was “imposed” on his nation, presumably by the 2001 invasion, and told the United States it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after terrorist sanctuaries and countries that supported terrorism, a reference to Pakistan.
Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taliban. It backed the group before their 2001 overthrow, and although now it is at war with its own militants, Afghan insurgents sometimes find refuge on its territory.
Karzai told parliament, which was holding its opening session for this term, that security forces were strong enough to defend Afghanistan without the help of international troops.
Karzai steps down after next month’s presidential elections. Under Afghanistan’s constitution, he is banned from seeking a third term.
He came to power in December 2001 following an international agreement signed in Bonn, Germany, and was confirmed by a Loya Jirga or grand council. He subsequently won two elections.