KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan parliamentarians are questioning a key clause in a U.S.-Afghanistan security pact holding that American soldiers who stay beyond 2014 will not be tried in local courts, lawmakers and an independent monitoring group said Tuesday.
Without that guarantee, it is highly unlikely that Washington would agree to the pact. But when parliamentarians were presented with details of the draft agreement at a largely closed-door session Saturday, they peppered government representatives with questions and concerns, Shah Gul Rezayee told The Associated Press.
Rezayee and another lawmaker Mohammed Naim Lalai said the issue will likely be a key focus of debate at the Loya Jirga, a traditional council of 3,000 prominent Afghans set to begin Thursday.
They government's National Security Adviser Rangin Dafdar Spanta emphasized that the Loya Jirga could reject the clause, but in that case there will be no agreement, the parliamentarians said.
The final decision on the pact rests with Parliament but if the council rejects it then Afghanistan is unlikely to sign.
Failure to approve the pact would mean that all U.S. troops would need to leave the country by 2014, when international forces are scheduled to withdraw.
Parliamentarians asked government officials during the session whether Afghanistan's soldiers and police could manage without international troops if the security pact was not signed, according to a report of the proceedings by the independent Afghan Analysts Network.
The presence of foreign forces is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, particularly if they cannot be held accountable by local courts. Scores of students demonstrated Tuesday in an eastern city, denouncing the pact and burning effigies of U.S. President Barak Obama.
"We don't want any U.S. bases and we want to see U.S. soldiers who kill Afghans tried in an Afghan court," said Noor Ahmed, a student of the Islamic University of Nangarhar, in the provincial capital of Jalalabad.
The pact also gives the United States sole control of Bagram Air Force Base, north of the capital Kabul, and access to eight bases, including one in Kabul, Rezayee and another lawmaker, Khaled Pashtun said.
U.S. congressional aides in Washington have confirmed the draft includes "exclusive jurisdiction" for the U.S. over American troops and contractors. Aides said the agreement says U.S. forces will no longer be able to enter Afghan homes, addressing concerns about highly unpopular night raids by foreign troops.
The Bilateral Security Agreement is a sweeping document, which incorporates the usual Status of Forces Protection Agreement, which the United States signs with every country where its troops are stationed. The detailed document covers everything from taxation to custom duties to a promise to protect Afghanistan against hostile action.
Without the Bilateral Security Agreement the United States previously warned that it will remove all its troops by the end of 2014 and an estimated $4.1 billion promised for Afghanistan's National Security Forces would likely be rescinded.
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon
AP Writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report