"When asked if Karzai was concerned that the US might lose faith and withdraw altogether, the president's spokesman said: 'We don't believe there is a zero option.' This rock solid belief that the U.S. will not walk away from Afghanistan gives Karzai the confidence to hold out when the Americans, as well as everyone at the jirga...are pressing him to sign."
Whoever expected clarity and a swift signing of the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) following the consultative loya jirga will be disappointed. The heads of the 50 committees duly reported back on this final day with a unanimity of views which strongly suggested prior coordination; all supported and almost all urged President Karzai to sign the BSA before the end of the year. In his closing speech, however, he kept to his stance that it should be signed only after the presidential elections due to take place in April 2014 and he added new conditions: United States forces should immediately stop entering Afghan homes and the Obama administration show a commitment to the peace process and to fair elections. After saying he would continue bargaining with the US, he was lambasted by the chair of the jirga, former interim president Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, who said the BSA should be signed now. Kate Clark, Gran Hewad and Obaid Ali report (with input from Thomas Ruttig).
On Thursday (22 November), when President Karzai opened the jirga, he kept insisting it was the delegates' decision – the "nation's representatives" – to agree to the BSA (now officially called the Security and Defence Agreement) or not. Today, he thanked them for their "suggestions" and, despite their almost unanimously expressed desire for a speedy signing, left saying he would carry on negotiations with the US. The jirga's call to sign before the end of 2013 had given him a face-saving opportunity to gracefully back down and sign earlier, but he chose not to take it and, indeed, his position has hardened further.