KABUL - President Hamid Karzai appeared to stiffen his resolve on Saturday not to sign a security pact with Washington, saying the United States should leave Afghanistan unless it could restart peace talks with the Taliban.
"In exchange for this agreement, we want peace for the people of Afghanistan. Otherwise, it's better for them to leave and our country will find its own way," Karzai told a news conference.
The president said pressing ahead with talks with the Taliban, in power from 1996-2001, was critical to ensure that Afghanistan was not left with a weak central government. "Starting peace talks is a condition because we want to be confident that after the signing of the security agreement, Afghanistan will not be divided into fiefdoms," he said.
Most diplomats now agree that Karzai is unlikely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow for some form of US military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, when most troops are due to leave.
Along with reviving peace talks with the Taliban, Karzai is also demanding an end to all US military operations on Afghan homes and villages, including strikes by pilotless drones.
The United States has threatened to pull all of its troops out unless a deal is signed in good time, but embassies are examining alternative solutions behind the scenes that would enable the NATO-led mission to remain.