Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai surprised observers Saturday by reaching a preliminary agreement that would allow a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. But now it’s up to a group of tribal leaders to give the final stamp of approval to a key U.S. demand that its troops receive immunity from Afghan law. The country’s Loya Jirga, the assembly of elders and leaders, will have to approve that measure, likely next month, reports the Washington Post.
Kerry emphasized that the United States would respect whatever the Loya Jirga decides, but emphasized that if the legal jurisdiction issue is not approved then the whole deal would fall apart. The United States has shown this is one issue it is unwilling to negotiate. In Iraq, a similar deal fell apart because the government refused to grant U.S. troops local immunity and the United States completely pulled out of the country even though it had originally planned to keep a small training and counterterrorism force operational, notes the Associated Press.
“A complete American withdrawal could prove disastrous for Afghanistan,” notes the New York Times, pointing out it would likely cause European forces to pull out as well, leading to a plunge in aid that the country relies on to pay its bills. Local forces are also believed to still need help pursuing the Taliban. There wasn’t much optimism that a deal would be reached during the previously unannounced Kerry visit to Afghanistan that began Friday. But Washington is eager to seal the agreement as early as possible because it will likely become harder to negotiate when campaigning for critical April elections heats up, notes Reuters.