By Mick Krever, CNN
Afghanistan should sign an agreement that would keep some U.S. troops in the country after 2014, Afghan presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“I hope and I'm confident that the zero option will not be an option,” Rassoul said. Leaving no U.S troops after 2014 is “not a good option for Afghanistan and therefore for the United States,” he said.
Rassoul, an establishment figure and former foreign minister, did not directly criticize President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign such a deal.
Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, has endorsed the security deal.
The Obama administration announced earlier this week that it had warned Afghanistan that it has started planning for a possible withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the year if no security agreement is signed.
Rassoul said that he did not believe Afghanistan was at risk of breaking out into civil war, and that the Afghan national security forces are “well trained” and “ready to defend Afghanistan.”
Nonetheless, he admitted that they are “not yet well equipped.”
“They are suffering from that. They need better equipment, training and advice.”
A security agreement would help with that he said, and would also be in America’s interest “after 10 years of wars and dollars, billions of dollars and sacrifices of the American soldiers and civilians.”
There are 11 candidates contesting to replace President Karzai, who is term limited and will leave office later this year.
Rassoul suggested that if candidates who have the “same views and same program for the future” join forces, that would be a positive development – “better for the Afghan people.”
Chief on the agenda of the next president will be corruption, a problem so endemic in the country that Transparency International ranked Afghanistan among the three worst countries in the world in its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The other two are Somalia and North Korea.
“That is the main thing that Afghan people ask from us,” Rassoul said. “We cannot bring a lasting security in Afghanistan if you have corruption in the country, and if you have not the good governance.”
“Personally, I'm committed to do that, and that is the main reason that I have been candidate for this election.”
Rassoul praised the progress Afghanistan had made over the past ten years, especially in the “democratic process, the human rights, women's rights, [and] freedom of media.”
Recently, however, a number of laws seem to have made life significantly more difficult for Afghan women. A recent one bars the relatives of men who are accused of abusing their wives from testifying against the husbands.
“The reason I have chosen a lady as my second vice president is not an electoral issue,” Rassoul said. “It is because I believe in that, and I always believe in my life that the women can play very important role in any society, especially in Afghanistan.”
“It's time now. It's fully the time now that they have the rightful part in the Afghan society, and the politics, and the business and any kind of society.”