KABUL, Afghanistan — In a face-to-face rebuke to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a grand council of Afghan dignitaries voted Sunday to recommend approval of a proposed 10-year security agreement with the United States by the end of the year, agreeing to an American-imposed deadline.
The chairman of the advisory council, or loya jirga, told Karzai he miscalculated by threatening a signing delay until next spring. Chairman Sibghatullah Mojaddedi lectured Karzai, warning that if he delays signing, "I'll resign and leave the country."
"If he had listened to my advice, we wouldn't have this problem today," Mojaddedi, 89, a former Afghan president and longtime confidant and mentor to Karzai, said as the president sat stiffly a few paces away.
But Karzai remained adamant that he — or his successor — will not sign the accord until after the Afghan presidential election in April. That stance has infuriated U.S. officials, who on Friday imposed a Dec. 31 deadline.
Karzai asked the loya jirga, whose recommendations are not legally binding, for more time to negotiate. "We'll try to bargain more with the Americans on your behalf" and then sign the agreement months later, he said.
The Afghan president is notorious for ultimatums and delaying tactics that seek to extract concessions and keep himself at the center of events. With his term ending in April, he is about to enter a lame-duck period — especially if he signs the accord soon.
The loya jirga's bold defiance of Karzai presents an opportunity for the mercurial president to save face and back down from the brinkmanship that has put the security deal in jeopardy. Mojaddedi assured Karzai: "If there is a problem in the future" with the pact, "the jirga is responsible."
Most U.S. forces are expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, but as part of the security agreement the White House has been pushing to keep an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 troops in the country for counterterrorism missions and to help train and equip the Afghan military.