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Afghanistan sets dateline to end civilian killings by NATO


Kabul : The Afghan government said Wednesday that it would seek a “national decision” on what is to be done with international military operations in the country if the NATO-led alliance does not respond to a draft agreement that calls for an end to civilian casualties within the period of one month.

The government sent an eleven-article draft to NATO headquarters Jan 10, asking the alliance to avoid civilian casualties during their war against Taliban and Al Qaeda targets by coordinating their operations closely with Afghan authorities.

The draft also demands the unilateral operations by international forces to be stopped and the house searches and detentions of the Afghans, which have been so far conducted by NATO-led troops and US soldiers, be shifted to Afghan security forces.

“NATO and the international military forces should make their stance clear how much of the Afghan draft agreement is acceptable for them,” presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said.

He said if Kabul does not receive any response within one month, it would seek a “national decision” through a referendum to decide the future role of international fores in the country.

Hamidzada did not elaborate on how the vote would take place, saying, “its mechanism could be explained and specified later.”

A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan acknowledged that the alliance received the draft, but said that the military organization was not given any dateline.

“We received a draft agreement on the 10th of January, and we have provided an initial response on the 19th of January but regarding the dateline, we have not received anything formally,” John Coppard, NATO’s civilian spokesman said.

“We are carefully reviewing them,” Coppard said. “It is a complex issue. It requires widespread consultations on both the military and legal sides. We are giving it serious considerations and we will provide a response to the Afghan government in due course.”

Civilian casualties at the hand of foreign troops have become a delicate issue in Afghanistan. The mounting incidents have angered the local people and created tension between President Hamid Karzai and his international military backers.

Karzai has previously criticized NATO forces for killing civilians during their operations, but his recent moves indicate the president is trying to distance himself from international forces who have angered the Afghan public.

Karzai, who is facing reelection later this year, is also seen trying to gain more control over international troops in the country to counter the impression that he is a US puppet.

The president Tuesday told a group of people from Tagab, a district in northeastern Kabul, that his administration had repeatedly tried to stop the international forces from unilateral military actions and urged them to respect Afghan culture and tradition.

Addressing the villagers, who claimed to have lost members of their family in the recent foreign military actions, Karzai said that the Afghan patience was running out and urged the international community “to make a decision soonest they can.”

The discord over civilian casualties has strained Karzai’s relations with his main military and political backers: the US government and other NATO members.

In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post last week, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote, “Afghans need a government that deserves their loyalty and trust.”

The new US administration of President Barack Obama is also said to be considering other options for leadership in Kabul.