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President Barack Obama’s message that the U.S. would “support a united Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future” during Tuesday's State of the Union went down well with a former top government minister.
Although a large-scale drawdown of international forces is scheduled by the end of 2014, Obama said a small American force could remain in the country to train and assist Afghan forces and pursue remnants of al Qaeda.
“We appreciate that President Obama is still thinking about how to help Afghanistan,” said Haneef Atmar, a former Minister of Interior. Like many Afghans he was worried that U.S. involvement was jeopardized by President Hamid Karzai’s consistent refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) between the two nations.
While the BSA was approved by a grand council of the country’s most influential tribal leaders known as a Loya Jirga in October, Karzai has insisted the U.S. meet extra conditions before he puts pen to paper, including brokering peace talks with the Taliban and releasing Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
A “zero option” threat to withdraw all troops has been broached by the U.S. if he refuses to sign and billions of dollars in projected aid money will likely dry up as a result.
Azita Rafat, said one of Afghanistan’s first female parliamentarians, agrees that ongoing American involvement in Afghanistan is essential.
“I want America to know this: the people of Afghanistan are all strongly united in full support of the BSA,” said Rafat, who is now a spokeswoman for current presidential candidate, Ashraf Ghani. “President Karzai should absolutely have signed it."
"All he is doing right now is playing political games," she said.