Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has announced that the United States intended to maintain nine military bases in the country after the formal withdrawal of forces in 2014, signaling Washington’s decision to maintain a significant military profile in Kabul for at least a decade.
Mr. Karzai said during a speech at Kabul University on Thursday that the Americans wanted to establish their bases in major Afghan cities including Kabul, Bagram, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gardez, Kandahar, Helmand, Shindand and Herat.
“We are in very serious and delicate negotiations with America,” said Mr. Karzai. He pointed out that his government would not accept U.S. demands unconditionally.
“Our conditions are that the US intensify efforts in the peace process, strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces, provide concrete support to the economy - power, roads and dams - and provide assistance in governance.”
However, Afghanistan would be ready to sign a security pact, based on a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) if these conditions were met. Last year the Afghan parliament had approved a deal in principle that would allow American forces to remain in Afghanistan for another decade beyond the 2014 cut-off, Iran’s English language Press TV is reporting.
Mr. Karzai had first hinted that the Obama administration wanted to establish permanent military bases beyond 2014 two years ago.
Given Afghanistan’s strategic location, the establishment of permanent bases was bound to impact neighbouring countries including Iran, Russia, the Central Asian republics, China, Pakistan as well as India.
Aware of the regional sensitivities involved, Mr. Karzai asserted that Afghanistan would maintain balanced relations with other counties allay concerns of neighbouring states.
The Associated Press is quoting a senior U.S. official as saying that the Americans and Mr. Karzai are at odds over his request that Washington should guarantee it would side with Afghanistan in case neighbouring Pakistan poses a threat.
In yet another reflection of their heavily strained ties, Mr. Karzai warned Pakistan during his university address not to consider sending its forces into Afghanistan. He stressed that Islamabad should not try and force Kabul to accept the disputed Durand partition line set in the 19th century as the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We want a civilised relationship with Pakistan but if any neighbour wants Afghanistan under its shadow ... it is not possible," said Mr.Karzai. "If there is any attack or any violation to force Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line, the Afghan nation will never accept it and will never recognise the Durand Line. Impossible."