KABUL, Afghanistan – A traditional Afghan national assembly on Saturday endorsed President Hamid Karzai's decision to negotiate a long-term security pact with the U.S. but imposed some conditions, including an end to unpopular night raids by military forces searching for insurgents.
A nonbinding resolution issued at the end of the Loya Jirga assembly backed an initiative from the president to negotiate a pact that will govern the presence of U.S. troops after 2014, when most international forces are to have left or moved into support roles.
The jirga's findings are consultative and Karzai does not need the jirga's permission to broker a pact, but he wanted its approval to strengthen his position at the talks.
They are likely to bolster Karzai's negotiating position with the United States during talks that are currently under way for a written U.S-Afghan agreement, which the U.S. calls a Strategic Partnership Document.
The more than 2,000 people who attended the four-day meeting asked him to ensure that the United States ends night-raids, hands over all Afghan detainees in their custody and limits any agreement to 10 years. They also said the future pact must be approved by parliament once it is drafted.
Karzai said that he had been worried that either the jirga participants would reject the proposed strategic partnership deal, or that they would fail to put enough conditions on it.
"We will act on the basis of your consultation," Karzai told the assembled delegates.
"I am very happy that you have accepted it and have put lots of conditions on it. I accept this resolution. It is the instruction to the Afghan government from the Afghan people," Karzai said.
The resolution said any future deal should include the immediate end of the night raids, where U.S. forces accompanied by Afghans carry out raids to kill or capture insurgents. They said all such raids should be Afghan-led.
It also said that any pact should least 10 years and that after 2014 all military operations should be led by Afghan forces. It added that the U.S. should commit to training and equipping the Afghan armed forces and should help the government build capacity instead of creating any parallel administrative structures — a reference to the joint international military and civilian provincial reconstruction teams now operating around the country.
As part of a future deal, 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.
"Regarding the strategic partnership with the United States, everyone said it is a must for the Afghans. It is the only way for Afghanistan to survive," said Mahmoud Karzai, a businessman and the president's brother.
"Our independence depends on it and we are in an area which is probably the worst in the world, surrounded by countries which are in the mode of confrontation and not in the mode of peace and economic development," he said.
But as much as it says it needs the agreement, Afghan's government also wants to show that it can rein in American operations.
President Karzai has said he will demand an end to nighttime "kill-or-capture" raids which citizens of this deeply conservative country say intrude on their privacy, and has asked that all detention centers in the country come under Afghan control.
The U.S.-led coalition has given no indication that it is willing to stop the raids. It says night operations are conducted with Afghan security forces and are an effective way to keep pressure on militants. The coalition estimates that an average of 12 operations are conducted every night in Afghanistan.
And although Karzai often plays to anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan by denouncing the U.S., he needs America's military and financial strength to back his weak government.
Delegates also backed Karzai's effort to make peace with the Taliban through reconciliation talks, although many said a peace council set up last year should be broadened.
Talks have made no headway, and efforts were brought to a halt following the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the Afghan government's effort to broker peace. Rabbani was killed at his Kabul home by an assassin posing as a peace emissary from the insurgent group.
Rabbani has not been replaced as head of the 70-member council, which is made up former Taliban, ex-warlords, members of parliament, top tribal elders and clerics. Critics have said that it is too heavily packed with Taliban opponents.
"We should appoint people who are more popular with the communities and are fully supported by the people. They should be able to go to villages, to remote areas," Gul Pascha Majudi, a Pashtun parliamentarian from the eastern province of Paktia, where Afghan and international military forces have been battling insurgents.
The meeting took place under tight security and the Taliban had vowed to carry out attacks to disrupt the gathering.