Karzai passes the buck on US troop immunity

(By Deutsche Welle) Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the Loya Jirga to decide whether US forces should receive immunity from local prosecution. Washington has threatened to pull out all of its troops if immunity is not granted.

For almost a year now, Washington and Kabul have butted heads over the details of a bilateral security agreement, which will govern a potential US troop presence in Afghanistan after NATO withdraws its combat forces in December, 2014.

The Obama administration reportedly wants to maintain between 5,000 – 10,000 troops and nine bases in Afghanistan to advise and train security forces and conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.

In early October, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with President Karzai in Kabul, where the two men said they’d hammered out a basic draft agreement. But the issue of US troop immunity remained unresolved.

Despite Washington’s call for an agreement to be concluded as quickly as possible, Karzai has opted to convene a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to vote on the draft in November and decide whether or not US troops should enjoy legal immunity from the Afghan judicial system.

“The Afghan constitution says that in questions of immense national important a Loya Jirga can be called and that’s what Karzai is doing,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, told DW. “The Loya Jirga usually is doing what the current rulers want from them – that’s the experience from history.”

“The thing is there’s always a margin of error, of uncertainty in it,” Ruttig said. “So it can of course happen that – particularly if there’s an incident briefly before – the mood swings and the agreement falls through.”

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