KABUL, Afghanistan – The United Nations and the U.S. government on Tuesday welcomed a deal between Afghanistan's president and elected parliamentarians that will allow the legislature to convene without further delay.
They were the first international endorsements of the deal hammered out over the past three days between a president who seemed intent on rejecting the elected parliament and angry lawmakers who threatened to start passing laws without his approval.
President Hamid Karzai has now committed to inaugurating the parliament on Wednesday — three days later than originally planned but well ahead of the Feb. 23 date he had announced last week.
"This paves the way for the parliament to convene, in the presence of the president, and resume its important functions in the democratic governance of Afghanistan," the U.N. said in a statement. The U.S. said that the process showed a "healthy and constructive debate." The European Union also issued a statement welcoming the opening of parliament.
Karzai rejected lawmakers' demand to abolish a disputed electoral fraud tribunal, but parliamentarians have said they are just happy to be able to start work.
The tribunal, that has threatened to change election results long after a wide-ranging probe by official fraud investigators had been completed, was largely condemned by the international community as unconstitutional. The U.N. has said that the court would be exceeding its authority if it tries to overturn results rather than simply pursue criminal prosecutions.
Tuesday's statement repeated this stance, saying "the United Nations also affirms the right of the judiciary to prosecute exclusively individual criminal cases."
The political crisis has threatened to destabilize the government as it is struggling to institute reforms and strengthen institutions in order to take on more security responsibilities from NATO forces. Fighting has been particularly heavy this winter, with U.S. troops pushing to hit Taliban leaders in their strongholds in the hope of soon being able to draw down troops.
But as the fighting escalates, the casualties mount.
On Tuesday, a NATO service member was killed in a bomb attack in the south, NATO said, without giving the nationality or any further details. More than 25 international coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Coalition fatalities topped 700 last year, making 2010 the deadliest for the international force in Afghanistan in the nearly decade-long conflict.
Also on Tuesday, Afghanistan's intelligence service said nine insurgents had been arrested in recent weeks in connection with major attacks last year in Kabul, the northern province of Takhar and Herat province in the west.
Two Pakistanis and four Afghans were apprehended for plotting several suicide car bombings in the capital, said Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for intelligence service.
The attacks included the Aug. 15 bombing near the front gate of NATO's headquarters that killed seven people; the Sept. 17 attack that killed six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians; an Oct. 8 bombing outside the Indian embassy that killed 17 people; and the Dec. 15 bombing near a hotel frequented by westerners that killed eight people.
Mashal said the six arrested are believed to be linked to the al-Qaida-affiliated Haqqani insurgent network, which operates from neighboring Pakistan.
"This was the core group responsible for (attacks in) Kabul," he said. "This was the main group, but it doesn't mean that this will be the last group" to launch such attacks.
Three other insurgents were arrested for attacks in Takhar and Herat.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report from Kabul.