Suicide bomber strikes Kabul after Karzai announces draft deal with US
KABUL // A suicide car bomber tore through the Afghan capital yesterday, killing at least six people near the site where thousands of elders are to gather next week to discuss a security agreement with the United States.
Authorities said 22 people were wounded in the powerful blast, which mangled a dozen cars and destroyed shops nearby.
The explosion came just hours after the president, Hamid Karzai, said US and Afghan negotiators had finished a draft deal to be presented to the Loya Jirga, a council of elders whom Kabul says must approve the document before Afghanistan signs it.
The explosive-laden vehicle rammed into an armoured vehicle posted about 200 metres from the giant tent where the Loya Jirga is to be held, the defence ministry spokesman General Mohammed Zahir Azimi said.
No group immediately claimed the attack, though blame is likely to fall on the Taliban, who have adamantly opposed the presence of any foreign soldiers in Afghanistan.
Mr Karzai has called 3,000 elders, clerics, parliamentarians and other influential figures to debate the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow US troops to remain in Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of next year.
Without approval of the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan likely will refuse to sign the agreement, Mr Karzai said. If the Loya Jirga approves it, the agreement still requires final approval from parliament.
Mr Karzai provided few details regarding how and when the draft was finalised, but said there still remain “differences” between Washington and Kabul on the deal.
Negotiations have been protracted and often acrimonious. In the end it took a surprise visit to Afghanistan last month by the US secretary of state John Kerry to produce the outlines of a deal.
The sweeping document incorporates the usual Status of Forces Protection Agreement, which the US signs with every country where its troops are stationed, along with a wide range of other clauses. It covers everything from customs duties on goods the US imports for its troops and development projects to the question of whether a US service member could be prosecuted for criminal offences in an Afghan court.
Before the draft deal was announced, two senior US officials said Afghanistan had sought specific security guarantees, particularly against cross-border incursions by insurgents from Pakistan. Washington is cautious about any commitments that could lead to a conflict with Pakistan.
Mr Karzai described a laborious negotiation process that sometimes came down to fine details of phrasing.
“There was one word that we didn’t want in the agreement but [the US] wanted and in the end they agreed to not use that word,” he said.
The Loya Jirga is scheduled begin on Thursday. The debate is expected to last several days and attendees are likely to be deeply divided over signing the pact.
* Associated Press
Updated: November 16, 2013 04:00 AM