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Americas

Karzai bids for US bases to stay in Afghanistan

media Stricy security - a passerby is searched as the loya jirga meets in Kabul Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday made a bid to keep US military bases in his country, but promised neighbouring countries that they would not be used for actions against them. And Karzai demanded a “strategic partnership” with Washington that would guarantee Afghanistan’s sovereignty.

"If they want military bases, we will allow them, it is in our benefit, money will come to us and our forces will be trained," Karzai told a four-day loya jirga, a traditional gathering of national figures, that is set to discuss relations with the US and working for peace in the war-ravaged country.

Dossier: AfPak news and analysis

But he also struck a nationalist pose in declaring that that he wanted Afghan-US relations to be those of "two independent countries".

"We want our national sovereignty and we want it today," he told the roughly 2,000 delegates in Kabul.

Karzai has already posed conditions, including stopping night raids, banning US troops from entering Afghan homes and an end to “parallel structures” working alongside Afghan institutions.

So far, these conditions have proved unacceptable to the Americans and large sections of Afghan and US citizens want US troops, who currently operate without a bilateral mandate, to leave the country.

“The jirga could give Karzai political cover for negotiations over a deal to keep some American troops in Afghanistan for another decade despite opposition from his people and the war-weary US public,” comments the Washington Post.

Prolonging the US troop presence could also upset nearby states, including Russia and China, and Karzai named the two giants when promising that “no neighbouring country will be interfered with from Afghanistan”.

He also said that he is working on partnerships with France, Britain, Australia and the European Union.

Some MPs have criticised the loya jirga as an attempt to bypass parliament and the newly founded Northern Front of Afghanistan, whose leaders include former vive-president Ahmad Zia Masood and Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, declared a boycott of its proceedings.

The Taliban have denounced it as an attempt to make the US presence permanent and threatened to attack it, as they did a “peace jirga” in June.

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