KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's president said Tuesday that he was in no rush to sign a security deal with the United States, once again dashing American hopes that a pact can be quickly finalized.
The United States wants a deal by October to give American and NATO military planners enough time to prepare for to keep some troops in the country after a scheduled 2014 withdrawal, instead of a total pull-out.
Afghanistan and the United States have since last October been negotiating a security deal that will give the U.S. a legal basis for having forces in Afghanistan after 2014, and also allow it to lease bases around the country. If the U.S. does not sign the deal, it is unlikely that NATO or any of its allies will keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Karzai however is pressing demands that the U.S. is reluctant to meet, and also is believed to want to shield himself from any possible backlash from signing a deal that some see as compromising Afghan sovereignty.
"The Americans wanted this security agreement in March or April, and now they are trying to bring it in October. But we want to do well, not to hurry; they are in a rush, not us. We are very relaxed," Hamid Karzai told a youth conference in the capital.
He added that if by October the United States can't meet a set of wide-ranging conditions, including security guarantees for the country and pledges for modern weaponry, then they could sign a deal with his successor after the April 5 elections for a new head of state.
Although Karzai has never fully spelled out his conditions, some of the guarantees are thought to include the security of Afghanistan's borders from foreign intervention. It is unlikely that the U.S. would ever agree to such a condition, as Washington is reluctant to sign anything that could be read as a pledge to defend Afghan borders against a neighbor such as Pakistan.
Karzai also said any security deal would also have to be first approved by a council of Afghan elders, or Loya Jirga, a national meeting that can take weeks to organize.
It was not the first time Karzai has said there was no rush for the agreement, but his comments came one day after President Barack Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, said Washington was optimistic a deal could be signed in October.
"The talks are underway, they're taking place in Kabul, and we're hoping the agreement can be reached sometime in October, and we're reasonably optimistic that it will be," Dobbins told reporters in Washington on Monday.
The U.S. and its allies earlier this summer formally handed over control of security for the country to the Afghan army and police. The handover paved the way for the departure of coalition forces - currently numbering about 100,000 troops from 48 countries, including about 60,000 Americans.
By the end of the year, the NATO force will be halved. At the end of 2014, all combat troops will have left and will be replaced, if approved by the Afghan government, by the smaller force that will only train and advise the Afghans.
Fighting has intensified as foreign troops withdraw and the Taliban intensify a campaign to regain lost territory. The fighting has led to a surge in the number of casualties among Afghan civilians and the country's security forces.
Karzai called on the Taliban to stop fighting, saying that in addition to civilian and government casualties, their own dead and wounded were increasing.
"Once again I am calling on you to stop bringing death, killing and disaster," Karzai said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also said she was concerned about the mounting casualties and the effect the war was having on the country.
During a visit to Kabul, she called on Karzai, his government and Afghans to "stand firm" against the erosion of human rights in Afghanistan, especially those of women in what is one of the most conservative countries in the world.
"Afghanistan is clearly at a critical juncture with the ongoing political, security and economic transition concluding in 2014, all of which will have an impact on the human rights of its citizens. There have been some distinct human rights achievements during the past 12 years, but they are fragile, and many Afghans are expressing fears that the overall human rights situation is deteriorating on several fronts," Pillay said.
Of most concern, she said, was the steady erosion of women's rights and the government's failure to fully implement a law for the elimination of violence against them.
"Afghanistan needs to brace itself to ensure that the tumultuous changes that will take place before the end of 2014 do not trigger a serious deterioration in the human rights of any segments of the population, especially women. Afghans have suffered enough over the past 34 years of conflict, destruction, displacement, hunger, greed and deprivation," she said.
Amir Shah contributed from Kabul.