By RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's president accused U.S. forces of capturing and holding Afghans in violation of an agreement to turn over that responsibility to his forces, complicating a new round of security talks between the two countries.
Hamid Karzai's statement late Sunday came just days after the beginning of negotiations on a bilateral security agreement that will govern the U.S. military presence in the country after the majority of troops draw down in 2014.
Karzai's critics say he frequently strikes populist, nationalist poses that give him leverage in talks with the Americans. Karzai, in turn, has said that he needs to protect Afghanistan's national interest in the face of a much stronger partner.
The two countries signed the detainee transfer pact in March, but the accord was vaguely worded and the U.S. has slowed the handover of detention facilities. Washington believes that the Afghans are not ready to take over their management, while insisting that the Afghan government agree to hold without trial some detainees that the U.S. deems too dangerous to release.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. is committed to fulfilling its pledges. "We do have a number of cases that we are continuing to work through with the Afghan government to ensure that commitments are kept on both sides," she said. "And we will work through those diligently."
In his statement, Karzai criticized the continued arrest of Afghans by U.S. forces. His spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters Monday that more than 70 detainees are still being held by the Americans despite being ordered released by Afghan courts.
"These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the U.S. president," said Karzai's statement, urging Afghan officials to push for taking over all responsibility at the Parwan detention center at the Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. It is the only facility where Americans confirm holding Afghan prisoners.
The disagreement over detention without trial, often called administrative detention, had put the entire transfer schedule on hold.
Faizi, the Afghan president's spokesman, said administrative detention is against Afghan law.
"There is nothing by the name of 'administration detention' in our laws, yet the U.S. is insisting that there are a number of people who, while there is not enough evidence against them, are a threat to U.S. national security," he said.
Faizi also said that Karzai had agreed in a video conference call with President Barack Obama earlier this fall to give the Americans two months to figure out an alternative to detention without trial, until after the U.S. presidential election. This grace period has now expired, said the spokesman.
U.S. Embassy spokesman John Rhatigan said the United States expects to carry out its pledges.
"The United States fully respects the sovereignty of Afghanistan, and we are committed to fulfilling the mutual commitments incurred under the memorandum of understanding on detentions," Rhatigan said in an email.
"The United States is working with Afghanistan to discuss the way ahead and we are confident we will succeed," he wrote.
The detainee transfer deal was one of two pacts that paved the way for a broad but vague strategic partnership agreement signed by Kabul and Washington in May that set forth an American commitment to Afghanistan for years to come. The second pact covers "special operations" such as certain American raids.
A third detailed pact, the bilateral security agreement, is now under negotiation. It covers logistical and legal questions such as the size and number of bases and the immunity of U.S. forces from prosecution.