Last month, Karzai also accused the United States of breaking an earlier agreement to turn over full control of Afghan prisons and detainees, including more than 3,000 prisoners being held at Bagram air base, and he ordered his aides to carry out the “full Afghanization” of all prisons.
Critics of the president, who is supposed to step down in 2014, when a new election is scheduled, say he has been grandstanding, mainly for domestic political reasons. Some suggest that he wants to cling to power and is using the security agreement to win personal concessions from the United States, even at the risk of sacrificing the entire pact.
But several other Afghan officials insisted that the government fully recognizes the importance of the agreement and is only seeking to protect its rights after a decade of subordination to Western military forces.
“This continued partnership is clearly in both countries’ interests, and there is no question that America’s security needs are important to us as well,” Ludin said. “But our fear is that the legalistic approach from the American side will miss the political gravity of it for us. We need a sense of reassurance that the Afghan laws and constitution will be respected.”
Afghan army and police commanders have repeatedly said they need an array of sustained U.S. support — from weapons to logistics to training — in order to defend the nation against Islamist insurgents. The Afghan public, although weary and resentful of the protracted NATO military presence, is also fearful of what will happen when Western forces leave.
Despite the stumbling blocks, U.S. officials in Kabul said they are optimistic that the security talks will go more smoothly than they did in Iraq. They said a solid bilateral security agreement, building on a broad strategic partnership agreement signed by Obama and Karzai in March, can help persuade the Afghan public that the United States will not abandon them.
In Washington, however, officials said there is little chance that the Obama administration will agree to any deal that allows U.S. troops to be handed over to Afghan authorities for prosecution and trial, citing concerns about corruption and bias in the Afghan justice system.
The United States has status-of-forces agreements with more than 100 other countries that spell out when they can prosecute U.S. troops under specified circumstances.
In Afghanistan, a legal agreement has for years allowed American authorities to prosecute U.S. troops for any alleged crimes committed there. Christopher M. Jenks, an assistant law professor at Southern Methodist University and a former military prosecutor, said it is hard to imagine that Afghan leaders would agree to extend that arrangement past 2014.
Even if negotiators try to paper over their legal differences, Jenks added, any agreement would quickly fall apart in a future case — such as the allegations against Bales — in which U.S. troops are accused of rape, murder or other atrocities.
“That’s all well and good until you have an incident,” Jenks said. “You can build a house of cards, but you run the risk of it all coming down.”
Whitlock reported from Washington. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Kevin Sieff in Kabul contributed to this report.