By Mick Krever, CNN
Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided suddenly this weekend not to sign an agreement to keep international troops in his country after their scheduled pull out next year.
His move, former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday, was the result of a desire to force the selection of a hand-picked successor in presidential elections next April. Abdullah is himself a candidate in that campaign.
“These negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States are being delayed not because of the content of the bilateral security agreement,” Abdullah said, “but primarily because of the personal feelings or personal interests of President Karzai.”
Last week, it seemed as though the U.S. and Afghanistan were on track to sign an agreement. This weekend, an assembly – or loya jirga – convened by President Karzai endorsed the deal.
But in an unexpected move, President Karzai rejected that recommendation on Sunday, saying he would not sign the deal until after the next presidential election, in April 2014.
He also demanded that the U.S. halt raids on Afghan homes and release Afghan prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
President Karzai was taken off guard by the “handpicked” loya jirga’s endorsement of the security agreement, Abdullah said.
“He wanted this deal to be signed later on so he has leverage,” Abdullah said. “He has to know that now he's out of touch with the people's opinion, and he has to listen to his own people.”
Abdullah added that it was particularly rich that President Karzai asked for good elections as part of the deal, as “he was the one who was to be accused of fraudulent elections, and he was the culprit behind it” in 2009.
“He wants, in exchange for signing of the agreement, a sort of guarantee about his favorite candidate,” Abdullah said. “That's all that one can say about it at this.”
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with President Karzai in Afghanistan on Monday to urge him to sign the deal.
In a statement released after their meeting, the White House said that it was “not viable” to defer signing the deal.
“Ambassador Rice reiterated that, without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” the statement read.
On the table is the Zero Option, in which the U.S. would withdraw all its troops – a threat made all the more credible by the total pull out of the American military from Iraq at the end of 2011.
It was a point also made to Amanpour on Monday by U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.
Abdullah is a long-time leader of the anti-Taliban resistance movement, and ran against President Karzai in 2009 before dropping out amidst allegations of electoral fraud.
He told Amanpour that President Karzai had had a fundamental “miscalculation” about the views of both the Afghan people and the intentions of the United States.
“He thinks that whatever happens, there is an interest in the United States to stay here forever for ulterior motives, rather than securing Afghanistan or helping, restoring the stability in the country or fighting terrorism.”
The “absolutely majority” of Afghans believe that President Karzai should have better used the “golden opportunity” of foreign military presence in Afghanistan over the past more than ten years.
“He has misused this opportunity, messed up with this opportunity,” Abdullah said.
The Afghan people “know that we need the continuation of support, continued support and security in military terms from the United States and the NATO forces, and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], and the international community as a whole, as well as economic support.”
For the international community to remove support, he said, would be to risk “losing all the achievements” Afghanistan has made, and messing up the “contributions or sacrifices of the people of Afghanistan and friends of Afghanistan.”
President Karzai, Abdullah concluded, “is highly unpredictable these days. He has been like this since quite a few months.”
“He is pursuing his own paths.”