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Afghan National Assembly Backs Pact with US

Kabul: An overwhelming majority of delegates at a traditional national assembly on Saturday backed calls from Afghanistan’s president for a long-term security pact with the US on some conditions, including an end to unpopular night raids by military forces searching for insurgents.

Hamid Karzai

By midday, more than two-thirds of the delegates attending the meeting had expressed support for President Hamid Karzai’s call for a security pact that will govern the presence of US troops after 2014, when most international forces are to have left or moved into support roles.

More than 2,000 delegates attended the four-day assembly, known as a Loya Jirga, and were divided into 40 committees to discuss negotiations that are currently under way.

More than 30 committee heads had endorsed Karzai’s call for an agreement by noon.

Karzai was expected to address the meeting at the end of the day.

The jirga’s findings are not binding, but they are likely to bolster Karzai’s negotiating position with the United States during talks for a written US-Afghan agreement, which the US calls a Strategic Partnership Document.

Karzai does not need the jirga’s permission to broker a pact, but he wants its approval to strengthen his position at the talks.

Both sides visualize a force of several thousand, which would train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations.

But the legal status of that force, how it would operate, where it would be based, and what it could or could not do has held up the talks.

Washington sees the document as a nonbinding set of principles guiding the two nations’ future relationship.

The Afghans want a strong and binding agreement to govern the presence of American forces in the country after 2014.

Afghan politicians are under pressure to uphold the country’s sovereignty, but also see the agreement as a key bulwark against both homegrown insurgents and some of its neighbors, including Iran and Pakistan which has been accused of maintaining ties with some Afghan militant groups.

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