Afghans attend a protest in Kabul October 6, 2011. Hundreds of Afghans from the Hmbastagi party (Solidarity Party of Afghanistan) staged a protest to condemn the U.S.-led invasion, which will mark its 10th anniversary on October 7. (Photo: Reuters)
More than 1,000 university students blocked a main highway in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday as they protested against any agreement that would allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after a planned transfer of authority in 2014.
An assembly of more than 2,000 tribal elders and dignitaries known as a loya jirga endorsed the idea of such agreement in a conference that ended Saturday, though they also backed a series of conditions proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai including the end of night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.
The protesters in Jalalabad city blocked the road to Kabul as they shouted "Death to America! Death to Karzai!" They said they would not accept any partnership with the United States.
Both the resolution and the protests reflect the tension in Afghanistan between a desire for real sovereignty and the need to bolster the relatively weak government against the still-strong Taliban insurgency.
The idea of the proposed security agreement is to keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past 2014, when most international forces are to have left. Afghan and U.S. officials envision a force of several thousand U.S. troops, who would train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. The pact would outline the legal status of that force in Afghanistan, as well as the rules under which it would operate and the sites where it would be based.
The jirga's resolution carries no legal weight, but could bolster Karzai's negotiating position with the United States during difficult talks under way to craft what the U.S. is calling a Strategic Partnership Document.
For its part, the Taliban condemned the recent meeting of elders on Sunday, saying that they were puppets of the Afghan government and therefore also puppets of the NATO and U.S. forces it sees as occupiers.
"They are acting like servants of the invaders of our country by issuing this resolution," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. He repeated the Taliban position that the only acceptable solution is for international forces to leave the country.