Protests Flare as Karzai Maneuvers to Keep US Military in Afghanistan
November 21, 2011 Reuters & Al Jazeera
Around 1,000 people, mostly students, took to the streets in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday to protest against plans for a long-term partnership deal with the United States, which they fear could lead to an extended presence of US troops past 2014. One protester said: "We don't want to be the slaves of Americans forever, our patience is running out. If this pact is signed, we will take to the streets every day."
Protest Flares in East Afghanistan Against US Deal Rafiq Sherzad and Hamid Shalizi / Reuters
SURKHROD, Afghanistan (November 20, 2011) -- Around 1,000 people, mostly students, took to the streets in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday to protest against plans for a long-term partnership deal with the United States, which they fear could lead to an extended presence of US troops.
Afghan political and community leaders endorsed the idea of a strategic partnership, with some caveats, after a 2,000-strong national gathering, or loya jirga, which ended on Saturday. The demonstrators gathered just outside the capital of eastern Nangarhar province and burned an effigy of US President Barack Obama as they protested against the prospect of US troops remaining in Afghanistan.
All foreign combat troops are currently slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, with security nationwide to be handed over to the national police and army. However, other foreign advisers will remain to work with Afghan forces.
"We are totally against any American presence in Afghanistan, they kill our people in their arbitrary operations," said university student Mohammad Tahir Qane. Other protesters carried banners and shouted "death to America, death to American slaves". One, 22-year-old Gul Khan, said: "We don't want to be the slaves of Americans forever, our patience is running out. If this pact is signed, we will take to the streets every day."
There were some major qualifications on the jirga's support for a pact, however. In a declaration made after the meeting, delegates said they opposed a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan and wanted the United States to stop carrying out night raids.
The status of the raids is proving a major obstacle to finalising the bilateral agreement. The raids have caused widespread resentment among Afghan civilians. Many Afghans, including President Hamid Karzai, say they should be stopped or severely curtailed. However, Western commanders see the raids as one of their most effective weapons as they seek out insurgents who hide among ordinary Afghans.
The Taliban condemned the loya jirga in an email sent to media outlets on Sunday. "We believe that (the agreement) was already designed by the Americans and only used the name of loya jirga to announce it," it said in a statement. The Taliban demand that all foreign troops must leave Afghanistan immediately.
Afghans Protest against Long-term US Pact Al Jazeera
JALALABAD (November 20, 2011) -- Hundreds of Afghan students have blocked a main highway in the eastern city of Jalalabad, protesting against any agreement that would allow US troops to remain in the country after a planned transfer of authority in 2014.
More than 1,000 students took part in Sunday's demonstration, which was staged after an assembly of more than 2,000 tribal elders and dignitaries -- known as a loya jirga -- endorsed the agreement.
But the assembly backed a series of conditions proposed by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, including the end of night raids by international troops. They also endorsed a complete Afghan control over detainees during a conference that ended on Saturday.
The protesters in Jalalabad blocked the road to the capital Kabul as they shouted "Death to America! Death to Karzai!". They said they would not accept any partnership with the US, whose troops -- along with those of NATO -- have been battling the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan since 2001.
Both the resolution and the protests reflect the tension in Afghanistan between a desire for real sovereignty and the need to bolster the relatively weak government against the still-strong Taliban resistance. The idea of the proposed security agreement is to keep a US military presence in Afghanistan past 2014, when most international forces will have left.
Afghan and US officials envision a force of several thousand US troops, who would train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. The pact would outline the legal status of that force in Afghanistan, as well as the rules under which it would operate and the sites where it would be based.
The jirga's resolution carries no legal weight, but could bolster Karzai's negotiating position with the US during difficult talks under way to craft what Washington is calling a Strategic Partnership Document.
For its part, the Taliban condemned the Loya Jirga (grand assembly), saying that the elders and dignitaries were puppets of the Afghan government and therefore also puppets of NATO and US forces it sees as occupiers. "They are acting like servants of the invaders of our country by issuing this resolution," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. He repeated the Taliban position that the only acceptable solution is for international forces to leave the country.
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